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Home | Oral History Archive | Reporter's Notebook

AMERICAN RADIOWORKS
ORAL HISTORY ARCHIVE

interview with:
Peter Taormina

Listen to Pete Taormina Interview


Pete Taormina
Photo: John Biewen/ ARW



As part of the research for Korea: The Unfinished War, American RadioWorks conducted almost 100 interviews with veterans and historians. We've made those interviews available here. Rough transcripts accompany each interview - but these are incomplete, and often paraphrase the speaker. The authoritative source should be seen as the audio recording, not the transcription. You can listen to and/or read the interviews -but please DO NOT QUOTE from the transcript.

Transcript:

Peter Taormina interviewed by John Biewen
Boynton Beach, Florida
March 1, 2003


{John Biewen:} Can I get you to say who you are and where you live?

{Peter Taormina:} My name is Peter Taormina t-a-o-r-m-i-n-a and I live […] in the state of Florida. The town, of course, is Boynton Beach.

{JB:} How long have you lived here?

{PT:} 24 years.

{JB:} How old are you?

{PT:} 74, I’ll be 75 this year.

{JB:} Tell me, where are you from?

{PT:} Originally from NYC, the island of Manhattan.

{JB:} Where you drafted?

{PT:} I was drafted yes. I was drafted January of 1952.

{JB:} Where were you then?

{PT:} I was living in NYC at the time. I was inducted in Camp Killman, New Jersey. From Camp Killman, New Jersey I was transferred to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, where I received 4 months of basic artillery training. After 4 months I was given a 15-day leave and I was sent to Seattle, Washington where I was docked for Yokohama, Japan. There we were reindoctrinated for 10 days and we were put on a ship for Inchon, Korea. And from Inchon, Korea we went to a replacement depot, which was in Yongdungpo that is a suburb of Seoul, Korea.

We spent a couple days and we were picked up by men from the 97th Field Artillery and we were driven to their position, which at that time was located in Kumhwa, Korea. It was part of the Iron Triangle, Kumhwa, Inchon and Pyonggang, which is in North Korea. This was sort of a triangle area and mostly heavy fighting was done in this location. This was like a corridor that led right, whenever the North Koreans and Chinese decided that this is where they would break through. Of course when I got there it was what they called the Battle of the Hills. They had a mainliner resistance and they were talking about truce talks and they were having them in Panmujom. This was in ’52 it was a whole year I was there before that truce was realized. And what they would do, some of the most bloodiest fighting of the war was done in those years when people were just dislodging one another from one hill. Name of hills like Old Baldy, Pork Chop Hill, Outpost – they had three ridges they called them Tom, Dick and Harry. Outpost Tom, Dick and Harry. There were a lot of battles fought there. And weeks would go along at a time and there was just occasional artillery going back and then the Chinese would I guess whatever happened in the truce talks, I guess if they didn’t like what was happening in the truce talks, that night you’d get a battalion and this would last about three or four days.

Actually when I was there from ‘52 to ’53, I participated in what you would call three major battles. In October of ‘52 we were supporting the 7th Infantry Division and they got into a battle called Triangle Hill. Lasted about a week. Artillery men, we didn’t get as much as the infantry men, but sometimes we would get a round come in and some of our men would be wounded, one guy killed, Able Battery had one killed and 17 wounded. And then it would die down.

That was October. November of ’52 they moved our outfit from Inchon to Kumhwa. We were what they called the lead battery or point battery. Charlie Battery, which was the battery that I was in that, was the closest battery to the line. Then you had Able and Baker in the back, Service and HQ, which were the supporting batteries. Things were going good and rounds here and there but then April the war started intensifying then when the artillery were having heavy battles up there. In June the 15th Infantry Regiment was on Outpost Harry and we were supporting them in that battle. The 15th Infantry of the 3rd today is in Kuwait waiting to go into, this is an outfit stationed in Georgia they had there different brigades. They were in Ft. Benning, Georgia, Camp Stewart and Camp Gordon. All these guys are in Kuwait today. As I said this regiment and this division is in Kuwait.

The 15th held on that hill for 10 days. We gave them supporting fire, there were division-size attacks by the Chinese, but they couldn’t dislodge them. And finally it was over; it was a 10-day battle. We lost, I think in that battle about 3 men killed and 20 wounded, which is not much.

{JB:} “We” being your unit?

{PT:} In my unit, this was the artillery. Now we didn’t realize it at that time, but this was June 10th to about the 18th of ‘53. A month later or less than a month we were in our position and it was daylight hours and we were told to move to another position. This didn’t make any sense to us at that time because a daylight move during daylight hours, you’re under observation of the enemy. We figured maybe the truce was signed. We moved to the Kumsong Salient. It was just near Kumhwa and we were pulling in about dusk around five in the afternoon and we could see the 555th Field Artillery, the Triple Nickel, deploying on our left. We saw units of the 18th Airborne moving in. We pulled up all the way into a caldron and as we were pulling in we saw truckloads of South Koreans shooting past us going back and some of them were bandaged.

Little did we know, they were retreating as we were pulling in. We pulled into this little cove. We were told to set up tents and to dig foxholes. They called a fire mission and there are 6 guns to the battery and we fired 3 rounds, 6 guns to a round that’s 18 rounds. After that we were hit with an artillery barrage that you couldn’t believe in the 13 months that I was there we were never hit that hard. We were hit by artillery, mortars and rockets. We could tell when a round came in by the sound but there was a different sounds coming in and we couldn’t figure it out. Later we found out it was rockets. We lost all communication because all the wires going back to HQ was destroyed. So we had to set up communications with the 955th Field Artillery, which assumed command. We were in this position pretty well pinned down until about 3 or 4 in the morning. Then the firing stopped and we were ordered to pull back. As we pulled back, we had the convoy on the road, we see a small arms fire coming in behind us. It was Chinese troops that were already deployed coming in behind us and they were ambushing us on the way out.

Little did we realize that the 555th Field Artillery which we had passed coming in was wiped out. They lost 300 people. Lost all their guns and everything. Chinese had set up and were waiting for us to come out. Now being a self-propelled outfit we had a lot of firepower. We had half-tracks with .50 and .30 caliber machine guns, we had trunks with machine guns, plus the guns on tanks and they figured the Chinese didn’t come that close to us because they thought we were a tank outfit. Anyway, we pulled out, came to a crossroads and Captain Robert Rader and Captain Reed, who was a young fella, they were directing us which way to go and they gave us directions, we went to the right, saving us. Later on we found out that Captain Reed was killed by a sniper on that road and the guys that were behind us went the wrong way and 6 men were captured. They were later released. We deployed in some area, it was raining like a son of a gun and we were all soaked. We set up our guns again. We lost 2 guns, one was disabled and the one that was captured they threw grenades into their treads. But ordinance brought up 2 guns to replace them but they were not self-propelled, they were toed. So we were firing all night and we noticed the infantry coming down again, the 15th Infantry from the 3rd Division which we had supported up at Outpost Harry came in in front of us and took over the positions that the South Koreans had left.

Well about two days later the fight was over. The Chinese retreated. We re-grouped and went back to our original position and licked our wounds, who was wounded, who was MIA and who was killed. There was one man killed and 25 guys wounded. Baker Battery lost one man.

{JB:} How many are in the battery?

{PT:} At full strength you should have about 250, I think we had about 180 men. Total casualties were 5 killed in action and 70 wounded. I haven’t got the exact count. We went back to our outfit. On August 1 I rotated, I left.

{JB:} […]

{PT:} Now on August 1st was my rotation date and about 6 or 7 of us left. We left the Pusan, on our way home. While we were on the ship coming home we get these little bulletins that come on and we saw that the 6 men that were captured from our outfit were released. They had a big switch, release. They were fortunate in the fact that they were only held prisoner for about a month or so. That was the end of the war for me. Of course there is a lot more before I came.

{JB:} Do you remember hearing that the war was over?

{PT:} Yes. We were in out outfit and a report came in that the ceasefire was going to be at 10 that night. So we’re all happy and all of a sudden the incoming rounds come in and they are landing behind us. They’re firing duds at us. A lot of them were just giving us our last calling card. You could hear the guys – what’s the matter with those guys? Don’t they know that the truce is gonna come in at 10 o’clock? I don’t know if I’m right but I think the last round came in at 5 after 10 and everything got eerily quiet. We were with the hill behind the infantry. Later we heard that when the Chinese soldiers were getting up on the hill and waving at the guys and the guys, it was a crazy thing. I think we lost 33 thousand and a lot of wounded and a lot of sad cases. This was all hill battles when I was there. Prior to that it was the moving battles. I can’t tell you from experience only from what I hear.

My story was, I could say that my real hairiest experience in the Korean War was July 13th 14th and 15th of ’53, just before the truce. We lost a kid from Nebraska, hell of a nice kid. His name was Richard Patterson. He came over in May of ’53 I was corporal of the guard that night and I had to place him up on the hill. The corporal of the guard had to place the guys in each position so this kid was the nicest kid you wanna meet. He was a little apprehensive, he didn’t know what to expect. I said, “Well things are quiet here,” I said. “We’re a hill away but the only thing is that hope that the rounds aren’t coming in earmarked for you. Most of them are marked for the back.” It turns out that he was driving a jeep, he was driving a master sergeant and the master sergeant was wounded and he was killed. He was the only guy that we lost.

Lot of wounded guys and we’ve had 5 reunions since then. We have one in Branson, Missouri that comes on September 7 to the 10 and we meet all these fellas and we relay all these stories and where were you that night, oh I was here. They tell you a million stories. I think I told you the one about Corporal Willard Rudd who lives in Yancy, NC.
Mostly these kids from the south are good drivers. Most of the officers knew that and they picked these kids from Carolina and Texas to drive them and Willard was one of these trailer truck drivers in later years where he hauled cargo all the way to New York and Long Island and down to the south. “I never found you,” he says. I says “What, you’re going to find me in NYC?”

His story, they were very fortunate. They were leading us out of that area and what he tells me is that they had gone up to where the Triple Nickel was, which was very quiet and they pulled up, and said, Oh I don’t like this its too quiet. So they turned around and started back up the road and they continued going and that’s when this Chinese guy all of a sudden stood up and hit him with a gun and wounded all three of them. And Willard knew enough just to step on that gas pedal and get out of there. And he was lucky to get out of there. They are all alive today after being treated. But as I said, he never got the Purple Heart until a year ago after we put pressure on. We were lucky that we had cooperation that the people that were with him were alive. That’s how he got it. Otherwise he wouldn’t get it. There’s a lot of guys like that. They were never given what they were awarded because either the people that were with them were killed or they just didn’t care. All they were interested in was going home and then 50 years later your grandchildren start asking, well what did you do in the war and how come you didn’t do this and so they start pushing for these things.

But that was basically my story of the war. I was there for 13 months and I could say I was in three major battles. The first two battles were a lot of work and artilleries going back and couple of guys wounded but the last was a real tough one for us.

{JB:} And was it generally or always Chinese?

{PT:} Mostly Chinese at the end because the North Koreans were pretty well decimated at that time. You know, ‘50, ‘51, MacArthur did a number on them when he came in and they were pretty well, and that’s when the Chinese figured that they better come in because they didn’t want us to succeed. And that’s not my department, but I think we pulled a boner there. I think MacArthur wanted to go all the way and I think that we made a mistake when they pulled him out. But who am I to say? It could have avoided the Vietnam War and it could have avoided things today. I mean we have no peace treaty there’s just a truce. Over 50 year truce. And God knows what’s going to happen there now. And don’t underrate those guys. They’re a bad enemy and they’ve got big brother behind them and I think they’re instrumental in a lot of this stuff. I hope everything works out.

{JB:} I gather MacArthur was sort of warned that we may have a never-ending situation there.

{PT:} Well you know there are a lot of ways to look at that. We had dropped two A-bombs in Japan in Nagasaki and Hiroshima that ended that war. And Truman was still the president. And who knows what he was thinking? Maybe he was thinking “Geez, I dropped two A-bombs on two cities, am I going to do it again?” That may have been one thing that stopped them. But who am I to say what would have happened. But if you talk to anyone, people say the same thing, if MacArthur would have went all the way and finished the job I think we would have had less troubles now.

{JB:} What was it like because in the next war in Vietnam there were a lot of people who felt frustrated that they didn’t feel that they had a freehand to fight. Did people in your situation feel that too?

{PT:} About Vietnam?

{JB:} No, in Korea, how did you feel about being there?

{PT:} We said that right now, they were just sustaining casualties month by month. Like I said, the infantry would there’d be maybe 150, 200 men on the hill, the Marines had one part of the coast, there was only you know at one time a couple hundred guys on each hill. Different companies and so forth they had a chance up there and they could go 5 straight days and nothing would happen. I’m telling you what guys told me, guys in my outfit that went up with the forward observer. I went up with the forward observer once. More or less as his caddy, carrying the scope, maps and field glasses, up the hill for the first lieutenant that was up there.

When I was up there, there was hardly anything. It was dark. They’d have what they’d call this harassing and interdiction firing. They would have one gun in the battery, they were scheduled at maybe 3 o’clock in the morning to fire at a crossroads. Harassing fire, so if anybody was in our crossroads then he was in trouble. And maybe another battery had another post and they would fire at that. But other guys were up there when the Chinese attacked. They told me that the whole area lit up with flares and you’d hear bugles and drums and yelling and these son of a guns would come up the hill and they’re calling for fire and we would fire these variable or vicarage fuses which you would put on a shell and this shell would burst above the ground, killing more people. And when they called that you knew that the Chinese were close. And you’d fire that and they’d break up the attacks and it’d be maybe two or three nights like that and another two weeks would go by and nothing would happen and this is what would be going on all along the front. But whenever they probed and tried to break through they would hit the South Korean lines. They were called Republic of Korea troops. It was what they called the Capitol Division, the ROK Capitol Division, which was their elite division. And that’s the guys that were running past me when I was getting in there.

One thing about our guys, most of us weren’t regular Army. Most of us were conscripts like myself. We were trained for 4 months and we were soldiers. But we held and we did a hell of a job for conscripts. And of course I wouldn’t want to be against our guys because maybe I would be running too if I was against our guys, but they could answer my question better, the Chinese. The North Koreans were, from what we hear, more brutal. They were the type that if they captured you they put wires behind your hands and behind your head and execute you. You’d find guys like that on the road. Chinese were, I don’t know what to say about the Chinese some people may say, they were a more disciplined bunch and if they captured you they wouldn’t execute you. The only thing they would do with you would be to try and turn, you or brainwash you into communists. And you had to be careful. I remember one of our guys, one of our six guys that was captured was this kid from Michigan, Jonnie Vanline and he told me when he was captured he was interviewed by a Chinese officer who was educated at Columbia University and now living in China and he started saying, Well you know you’re living in a country that’s capitalistic, and you know downgrading us. And John says, Well you know I know there are things wrong with our country but its still a great country. But they had a good conversation with the guy. He lived in New York City where Columbia was and here he was fighting.

{JB:} When you told me about getting the news that the truce was going to be signed where were you at that point, physically?

{PT:} I was in Chorwon area, that’s where we were since Thanksgiving Day, 1952. I told you when I first got there I was in Kumhwa, July to November and we moved on Thanksgiving Day, 1952 and we went to Chorwon where we set up and built bunkers. At that time we had to build bunkers, we had to fill sandbags. In fact at that time we had an agreement with the engineers, we used to blow out the sides of a hill and then get logs and whatever we could get to build the bunker and then we’d be living in the side of a hill maybe 12 to a gun crew and we were just like firemen. If there was a fire mission we had to run out of our bunks and fire whatever mission we had to do.

One thing I’ll tell you there were plenty of rats though, as we were laying on these inflated mattresses, like a raft and we did manage to build like little bunkers and we had logs from trees and the sandbags on top and you’d see these rats about this big running along the logs in the middle of the night. One guy a rat fell off and top of him and he screamed. One guy took his carabineer and he bang, bang, bang and he said I’ll get those guys. This is what happened in the bunkers. They were like pinkish, big, fat—

They had a disease over there, which they called hemorrhagic fever and they claimed it came from the rats. And we had about three guys that were hospitalized. We never saw them again, they wound up in some hospital in Japan or wherever. And they said they had hemorrhagic fever. I tell you we had pretty good training offices over there we had good sanitary conditions. We had men and their jobs were the sanitary conditions of the battery. To go to the bathroom, we’d dig a big hole and we’d build up these commodes with hole in them and we had bags of [lye?] and toilet paper and then you’d dump these bags of [lye?] down there to cover the excrement. Before you ate, they’d have all these pails with whatever they’d have in them and you’d have to dip your mess gear in them. And the medic the battery medic he was at the head of each line and he had a whole bunch of pills and they’d make you take them. He wanted to see you take them. And so I saw him at the reunion two years ago and I said, What the heck was in those pills you gave us? He said, Oh that was all sort of antibiotics and stuff to keep you from getting yellow fever and malaria and stuff like that. They were very conscious of that. An infantryman could tell you a different story. They could tell you more close hand fighting and stuff like that.

{JB:} What’s your sense of what people think about the Korean War?

{PT:} They’re not educated enough about it. In fact, we have a program, they have men that go around to some of these schools and talk about it. Because the history books, they don’t say nothing, they just pass over it. They might say, oh there was a three-year war or something like that but they don’t mention it. In fact event the Vietnam War, I don’t think they cover that much. But they try, there is one guy that’s a PhD, Dr. Ralph Labe (sp?). He was in the 8th Army HQ and he was in the New York City School System and he organized a group of guys that can present themselves and talk. And they would make appointments with high schools and middle schools and talk to the kids about the war and explain it to them the best way they could. So they do have a program that they can try and do that. I haven’t been active with them […]

I mentioned Murry Havaline and Herb Dareff. Herb was a 24th Infantry Division, Murry was 2nd Infantry Division in ‘50, ‘51. Some of the other guys, I don’t know where they were, but I’ve got some stuff that you could look at […]

{JB:} I’d like to go back to the beginning. When you were drafted you were how old?

{PT:} I think I was 23 years old. I wasn’t that young at that time because I was working and I was unmarried so I was ripe for the picking.

{JB:} And how did you feel about it?

{PT:} To be perfectly honest with you, when you’re that age it sounds like an adventure. It sounds like you’re going to take off on an adventure. You’re so young and naïve that you’re not think of the consequences of why you’re going over there. You read and they tell you why and of course now that I’m older I know why I was going over there. But maybe some of the guys felt differently. I wasn’t the type of guy that said, Oh I’m not going to go or something like that. I was a young kid who grew up during WWII and I saw all the neighborhood guys going off to war and I thought geez, I would have loved to have been there with them. A young guy talking. My dad had passed away and my mom and sister were living with me. Some parents put their kids in the National Guard, which at that time was untouchable. I know a guy that was in the National Guard and never went over, never did anything and they took precautionary methods not to go, but we didn’t feel that way. Where I came from, in my neighborhood, most of the guys went. There were no demonstrations or anything like that.

I lived in Manhattan, what they call today the Upper Eastside. It used to be what they called the Yorkville Neighborhood. This was the neighborhood from 59th Street to 95th Street – from the river to the park was considered Yorkville. And this was an old German neighborhood. German immigrants lived there like in the 80s and 90s and you had Hungarians, eastern Europeans mostly. Czechs and you had Italians, like my ethnic background, but not as much. Italians in those days lived in neighborhoods where there were all Italians, say like Uptown or eastern Harlem or Mulberry Street where they have those feasts. But mostly it was eastern European, Irish, there were a lot of Irish on 3rd Avenue and so forth. So I grew up with different ethnic groups, which I though was an advantage. So that’s what we were, we were all patriotic. We had an awful lot of guys in Korea, WWII.

{JB:} When you say now you know what you were there for, what were you there for?

{PT:} Well I think we had a legitimate reason more than any of the wars that we had other than WWII. They had made an agreement, at that time you had Berlin, you had East Germany and you had West Germany and Korea and the Russians controlled North Korea and we controlled South Korea and they violated the United Nations charter by attacking the line and apparently the Russians trained the North Koreans a lot better than we trained the South Koreans. The sad thing about that is, we had garrisons in Japan, you had the 24th Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry, which was MacArthur’s bodyguards, and they were living the life of luxury in Japan. The Japanese were washing all their clothes and they were living like kings. They sure were soft and weren’t ready for battle. Until this thing happened on June 25, 1950, Truman ordered troops over there and boy those poor guys didn’t know what hit them.

There was a Task Force Smith, they called it. There was a general by the name of Smith and he was ordered to take them over there. The North Koreans had these big Russian tanks and they came in and just swept everybody over. Then MacArthur came in and he started that end run. They had driven our guys all the way down to Pusan and MacArthur came in with an end-run landing on Inchon and destroyed all the North Koreans and had them all the way up to the Yellow River, ending the war – so they thought. That’s when the Chinese came in and they just weren’t prepared for that. So it became a seesaw battle and then from the end of ‘51 until ‘53 it became the battle of the hills. And when the truce was signed they wound up a little better, they gained ground on us. I guess Eisenhower was ready to end the whole darn thing and he settled for that.

{JB:} During that period of the hills, was there essentially no movement?

{PT:} There were no excursions where they break through for 50 miles down and so forth. Everything was hills. We called in the MLR – the main line of resistance. One of these fellas gave me a series of maps […] This says the 8th Army front-line, July 27th. That was the day of the truce. And this gives you the whole thing. The way the line ended that day, with us moving down a few miles. I know we had to move back a little bit. And this gives you the Iron Triangle. This was considered the triangle. And they give you the outfits that were there and the Chinese had divisions that were up there.

{JB:} Chorwon is, by the way, C-H?

{PT:} C-H-O-R-W-O-N. This gives you Outpost Harry, when we were up at Outpost Harry. These are all the names of the hills […] That’s all the war was, from then on […]

{JB:} You talked about growing up and seeing older guys go off to WWII and come back and the kind of reception they got when they came back. Compare that to yours.

{PT:} Okay, I’ll give you a perfect example of that. WWII the guys came back, there were parties all over the place. I’m talking about Manhattan. Celebrations, parties in the homes because Jimmy came back and Joey came back and things like that. Very festive and they were really recognized. They had block parties. When I came back from Korea, I came back and I’m walking down the street, nobody says a word. In fact, people that I met that I knew, “Oh hi, how you doing? You were in the Army?” I says “Yea.” I go home, so I figured out I took my uniform off and put my civvies on and I went to my old neighborhood. I went down to this park where we used to hangout and play ball in and there was a handball game going on, I used to like to play handball. There were a couple of guys there playing handball that I knew. I hadn’t seen these guys in about three years. I turned around, “Hey Pete, where you been? I haven’t seen you around in awhile.” Stuff like that. You just came back to nothing.

{JB:} Why do you think it was so different?

{PT:} I think first of all I think that people had a belly full of WWII and they just weren’t prepared to go into another one 5 years later. And then when the Vietnam thing turned out. I had guys in my outfit that stayed in the army and went to Vietnam. I often told them, I says what’s the difference. He says it all depends where you were. The only thing was, he said, at least with ours we knew that the enemy was on the next hill. In Vietnam they were all around you. The Vietnamese fella who did work for you during the day, at night he’d go out into the bush and fire mortars at you. They’re actually living among you in Vietnam. In the late hours they would take off in the bush and they said it was a terrible war. They all say it was the wrong war and if it was handled differently. I’m glad I missed that one. If you go into a war, you’ve got to go in to win. You can’t go in half-cocked. We have too much pressure over here. People don’t want, as soon as the body bags start coming in its like “Hey stop, we don’t want this to continue.” You’ve gotta have a heck of a good reason to go to war. I don’t know what the story is now. I hope he’s right. I hope he knows what he’s doing. Of course I would support him to the end. We should support our president but we always hope that he’s right.

{JB:} Did you feel that Korea that there was ample justification?

{PT:} Oh yea, I think so. If there was any ample justification there was more justification than Vietnam and this thing. There they broke, in other words, they could have done it in Berlin. The Russians were very cagie they always had somebody doing it for them. They supported the Vietnamese and they supported the Koreans. The Chinese are doing that now. I feel that they’re behind North Korea and keep them busy while they’re over there. Like I say, there’s some days ahead of us, I’ll tell you and I hope its good for us.

{JB:} It is interesting to read about the Korean War some of the dynamics. You’ve got the UN and MacArthur and Washington […] its really interesting how it kind of echoes what’s going on.

{PT:} They were afraid at that time that Russia was going to come in and they’d have a wider war. Actually I think that if we really would have hit them hard, Russia wouldn’t have come in, nobody would have come in, they’d figure oh we really better stop this now. ‘Course, the U.S. is crazy and they’ll go all the way.

{JB:} Let Korea be united and be done with it.

{PT:} But as it is now they’re doing a lot of talk. I think its bluff mostly. I think they’ve got us over a barrel because we’re over there. They’re looking for a deal. If we come up with a deal then they’ll stop. And then 10 years later it will start again.

{JB:} Korea, you mean.

{PT:} Yeah, I don’t think they really want, they know they’re not going to get obliterated, but I hate to even think of that. Those things going back and forth.

{JB:} Do you remember how much were you paying attention before you were drafted in ‘51 when the Chinese came in and then Truman fires MacArthur. What do you remember about your feelings about that at the time?

{PT:} Well, we were disappointed. At that time MacArthur was a hero. He was the hero of WWII. Some people thought that he was like an emperor. There’s two ways of thinking there. Maybe the older guys that were wiser than I was at the time, because he did take over Japan. He lived like an emperor there. But he did a good job there. He controlled them, but I guess Truman didn’t want any part of him. I guess Truman was afraid of him and thought, Well I’d better get rid of this guy. Which he did […] and some people side with Truman. History seems to be siding with him on that decision.

{JB:} Wasn’t there a big parade in NY for MacArthur?

{PT:} Yeah, the Canon of Heroes, down on lower Broadway.

{JB:} You didn’t go down for that did you?

{PT:} No, I didn’t go down for that. I think I was working. This happened in ‘50 or ’51—

{JB:} I’m trying to think, was it April or something of ‘51?

{PT:} But I’ll tell you its good to put research into that because if you really study that war, what is it the Vietnam War they said it was the Gulf of Tonkin that started it and now they claim that was a lie. So you know. That was their justification to go into that war and a lot of people say that was a lie now. So who knows, when it comes to upper politics it’s a different game.

{JB:} What kind of work were you doing when you were drafted?

{PT:} Well, I was working for the A and P Food Markets at that time. I worked for them.

{JB:} What kind of work were you doing?

{PT:} I was a cashier, you know, a clerk, checkin’ out, a grocery clerk. At that time they just got into the registers in the front. Then I went into the service. And I had passed the test for the NYPD and when I came back I was appointed to the PD. I retired after 25 years. I’m retired 25 years from them. 25 years where did it go? There are a lot of us like that. A lot of us were veterans from WWII and Korea, but they’re all out now. I guess you’ve probably got some Gulf War veterans now, but most of the old veterans are out.

{JB:} Did you say you came down here after you retired?

{PT:} I came down here, this was a retirement community in here. You got a lot of New Yorkers down here, Michigan people, Minnesota. The Midwest and New York, New Hampshire, the east coast. I guess Chicago and out there, they retire to Sun City, Arizona. But this is a good life down here.

{JB:} I supposed having a lot of people down here of your generation inevitably there are a lot of Korean War veterans.

{PT:} Oh yeah. You’ll see these fellas in the firehouse […] They sent the rest of the 2nd to Germany for occupation duty. And the reason they did that, the colonel of the 92nd volunteered the outfit to Korea. They weren’t too happy. […]

{JB:} Do you remember your sense of relief when you hear that it was over?

{PT:} Oh sure. In fact I was supposed to marry my wife. We had the date set. We were married on November the 8th and I got out of the Army, see we only did 21 months they took three months off because of Korean duty and I was very happy. She had the wedding all scheduled and here I’m playing games over there.

{JB:} So you were going to get out regardless?

{PT:} Yeah, I was going to get out. We knew we were going to be rotated of course they could stop that rotation if anything happens. In fact about 10 of us rotated in August and we were all saying, my God, we were here thirteen months and now the shit hits the fan? But we were lucky. I tell you, it was an experience in life, it was an experience. To be alive after that, and to live a full life. I feel sorry for the guys that didn’t and I feel sorry for the young guys that, well an awful lot of guys died over there. And I mean kids, 17 and 18 years old, guys that, after WWII a lot of guys got out of high school and jobs weren’t that easy to find and so they joined the service and some guys joined the Army and they wound up in Korea. They wound up in Japan with that occupation duty and immediately sent to Korea. I know two guys from my neighborhood that got killed there and a couple of other guys that came back lucky after going through it. So I didn’t have any problem like they did. I was fortunate enough. I was a hill away from them. It all depends on who held in front of us. If they didn’t hold then we were in big trouble.

{JB:} And what is the distance?

{PT:} We were howitzers, which is high trajectory. There are howitzers and then guns. You have a 155 gun and a 155 howitzer. A gun has a longer barrel. Its more straight ahead and more hitting power and more or less direct fire. With the howitzer it was high trajectory it was more like a lob. It was perfect for the hill battles. In fact it got to the point where you could see the round coming out of the barrel, if you did it long enough you could see it. And you’re in back of it and you could just see this blur going over and after a while you got to hear the Chinese guns going off. Boom. Boom. Boom. You wait awhile and it got to the point where you could hear them. And that’s when you’re there too long. When you start hearing that stuff.

{JB:} When you talk about that last battle when you got that barrage of artillery. How close did it come to you?

{PT:} Oh, we were in a valley. We had a hill behind us and a hill in front of us. And we often commented, whoever picked this position for an artillery battery had to be sick because you have to have the ground so when you fire your gun rocks back and forth. And we had to put tree limbs and rocks to keep the guns stable. You’d put it in there. The rounds were coming in and they were hitting that hill behind us. The rocks were coming in and it was hitting that hill behind us. At that time they came out with the bulletproof vests. We didn’t have them up until about 3 months before that.

And this fella, I’ll never forget this kid from Colorado, Joe Duran, he was rotating in a week, I was rotating in another month. The two of us dug a 2-man foxhole. And everybody was kidding us. They said these guys are digging to China. I says, Oh no, I says. We got in that hole when the rounds were coming in and the guys were clawing there way on top of us trying to get into that hole. These are the wise guys. I felt something hot hit my arm and a piece of jagged shrapnel but it had lost its power. When I took my vest off I could see there was a couple of shrapnel pieces embedded in my vest. Meaning that if I didn’t have the vest on I would have had a serious injury back there. So that was one thing. That’s another thing that I noticed and that the other guys noticed. They did save lives, those vests.

Going out, a couple experiences we had, we had some African-American guys in our outfit, a group of them and going out the cooks truck was turned over, the mess guys. And they’re waving and they looked like, I thought it was a couple of the black guys because their faces were all singed with cordite and stuff like that. Oh yeah, come on, we were on the half-track at that time so we grab ‘em and we put ‘em on the half-track and they come in with us. Then we looked at them and it was a guy I knew but something had blackened his face and singed his hair. And I could remember him visually, I can’t think of his name, we put him on the half-tracks. It was a real mess. The whole thing was a real mess.

Then another time we’re going down the road and one of the mess sergeants who was also one of the black guys he’s on there with me and he had a .45 and these Koreans are running over the hill, they’re retreating and this one guy jumped on the hood looking for a lift and I remember this black guy putting the .45 on him and saying “Get off damn it, get off!” And the guy got off. At the time some of us felt that geez the poor guy wanted a lift and the guys said, I don’t care, he could have had a grenade and killed the whole lot of us. I was looking out for everybody. I guess he was right in a way.

{JB:} How did that go by the way? The integration of the military for the first time?

{PT:} Well that started about that time. We didn’t have, well they were there when I was there, but the original 92nd that came from Ft. Hill, Texas they were all white. Most of them were Texans, Louisiana, and New Mexico, and of course you know how their feeling was towards blacks. But then they started to put them in around 1951 and 1952 and we had quite a few of them in my outfit at the time. And I’ll tell you I got along with the guys, they were no different than the white guys, you had the bums and you had the good guys. I got along […] you see I’m the president of the 92nd Association and I also look up names with the computer to find some of these guys. The sad thing I gotta say is that I’ve located about 10 black guys, and most of them we had good conversation that I knew, but some of them I could see didn’t waste much time talking to you. In other words, what do you want us for a reunion? Stuff like that. And this one kid in Chicago, Webb, Georgie Webb, I think he’s a pretty sick guy and another guy in Detroit, MI, he contributed a donation to the reunion and some of our offices, we had one guy living in Dallas, Bernie Williams, these were intelligent guys, but like I say, the times didn’t treat them right I guess.

{JB:} What do you mean by that?

{PT:} Well you know that, look, let’s face it, I’m 74 years old. You’re a younger man than I am. And going back to my younger days when I was 18, 20, we hardly ever seen a black guy in NY. They lived up there in their neighborhoods, they never came down to our neighborhoods, stuff like that because they had a different mentality in those days. Now you see them in all the neighborhoods and stuff like that and it’s just as well that it is. Education is the big thing. People have to be educated. If you’re not educated its not going to work out right.

{JB:} So you just mean in general in society at that time.

{PT:} Society at that time wasn’t ready to accept them.

{JB:} What sorts of things did you see in Korea?

{PT:} Well, things worked out okay, but they stayed among themselves. But if they were in your outfit they did everything right. I could tell you that with the police department, the NY, they were in the PD in NY too and when we were going to go out and have lunch or something like that they’d all go out together. And we even invited them, I think it was a way of protest on their part. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to hang out with them, they wanted to hang out with themselves. And not one of them has come to our reunions. They’ve been all white. The 92nd reunions. The guys that I notified, they’re cordial to you but they don’t come. Whatever reason they don’t come, whether financially they’re not well off or they just don’t want to come or they feel why should I break bread with you when you haven’t been that good to us. This is my opinion, I could be wrong. This is what I notice. We get a long with them okay and I never had no prejudice. It’s a bigoted society all together. You see it every day. Trent Lott, you saw what happened to him. Things will be better. If the world is allowed to continue that long.

[Showing photographs]

{PT:} That’s me over here in the middle. And you can see how many black fellows we had over here, 1, 2, 3, we had about 5 guys. Six in our outfit and there’s a 12 man crew. This is loading the shell into the gun to fire.

{JB:} What were interactions like with the South Koreans? I suppose they didn’t speak much English?

{PT:} No, some of them did they learned all the bad words. Some of them were aloof. But we have some of them that belong to our reunion group. This one guy is a professor in Suwon University. in Korea and he has an address in Flushing, Queens. He lives in the US. There’s another guy lives in Annandale, Virginia and he’s with the Korean Newspaper. There’s a Korean newspaper there and he came to our reunion in Virginia, in Arlington […]

{JB:} So was he a good friend of yours?

{PT:} Yeah, yeah, he’s a heck of a nice guy.

{JB:} I mean was he then? Over there?

{PT:} Yeah, oh yeah. We didn’t contact each other, we lost each other, but the computer age has made the world smaller […] They don’t have it on the ships or nothing no more.

{JB:} Lets put it this way. Vietnam became famous for a lot of drugs being used by soldiers. Was there anything like that in Korea?

{PT:} I never heard of drugs in Korea. There might have been but I never heard of it. The only thing we had there was maybe a little excessive drinking, alcohol. We used to get rations, alcohol rations. They’d give us a ration of beer and certain times we’d get hard liquor. It was supposed to be, from what we heard, the percentage was lowered down from the average liquor you would drink on the outside, but still got you drunk. A lot of people felt that this was more or less what guys did, but I noticed drinking, there was nothing against it, in fact we had places where we would build a little bar in there, like a little club and we’d have drinks in there. Guys would go there and have a drink. Another thing besides alcohol was cigarette smoking. I was a heavy smoker, I haven’t touched a cigarette now since 1961. That’s one of the few smart things I did in my life. But cigarette smoking and alcoholic beverages that was pretty available.

{JB:} Do you think that was partly because people took advantage of their availability because it’s a stressful situation?

{PT:} Well, stressful situation, I guess we all have a different crutch that we lean on in life. I don’t know, drinking at that time to a guy my age was like peer pressure or a manly thing or something you had to do. Same thing with cigarettes. I don’t think I ever enjoyed a cigarette and you had to look like you were smoking a cigarette. And I never saw anybody got in trouble over drinking or anything like that. They might of in the long run. Some guys probably continued it after they got out of the service and it may have affected them. But from what I hear today they used to have alcohol available. They used to have a bar, or little clubs for the guys. They say alcohol is out because they realize what its done. If that’s true I think that’s the best thing they can do for these guys. To keep that stuff out of it.

Drugs is another story. Unfortunately you read about it all the time. One thing about the Korean War, it may have been over there and some guys may have been using it, but I can tell you that my outfit, I never saw anybody using it, and I wouldn’t even know what it looked like. I don’t think the Korean War was affected by that. Drinking was the thing. Its just like kids in college and high school they used to have drinks. It continued in the service. But it was available, they had it for you.

{JB:} So did you find yourself in battle situations you’d come up in the middle of it and there you were?

{PT:} Lot of guys had it saved and stashed. To keep it cold, in the summer time, you know the sandbags, the burlap sacks, we’d put cans of beer in that and put it in the creek to keep it cool. Of course booze you didn’t have to do that. Most of the guys were beer drinkers. Everybody drank beer. The thing is, a lot of the guys they’d try to get a hold of the Jap beer, Eshi. And the engineers they used to come over and make roads for us and dig sides where we built our bunkers so we’d pay them off in cases of beer. And they’d come over and do it for us. And of course we’d trade them. They would have a couple of cases of Eshi beer, and alright, you give us two cases, we’ll give you ten cases. Just for the beer. That’s how it worked.

END

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