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Home | Oral History Archive | Reporter's Notebook


Korean veterans often compare their homecoming to what World War II veterans received less than a decade before. Reamer Bell of Cincinnati, Ohio describes the contrast. Listen (:35) or Read the entire transcript.

"Coming back it was like I just came back from vacation. It wasnít like hoop-la from World War II, you know the banners, confetti and all. We didnít have any of that. I donít know. That was the year, you know, you got spat on and things like that. Eh, what the heck. The World War II was just over; that was the, that was the big one. But you remember now, I forget how many lives were lost in World War II. Korean War was only three years but we lost as many as they did in Vietnam in 10 years. So what does that tell you?"

Oscar Cortez of San Antonio, Texas was taken prisoner by the Koreans in February of 1951. He finally got the homecoming he was looking for many years later. Listen (1:12) or Read the entire transcript.

"Well my grandmother, God rest her soul, was at the airport, my father, but San Antonio coming out and there was only one, I got a card from Apache Distributing Company that distributes beer. They sent me a card for me to go by and pick up a free case of beer. Thatís the only thing I got. A couple years ago, we had a parade here. It was a parade at night. And on the side of the truck there was a sign that said American POWs and even though the sign was small, when people would see it boy they would get up. "

Shorty Estabrook oof Marianna, California was in a POW camp with his buddies when a long line of trucks went through and he learned the war was over and he would finally go home. But that wasn't the end of his troubles. Listen (3:04) or Read the entire transcript.

"And I think when it first really hit me and most of my buddies were there in camp and one day this long line of trucks came through and it was just packed with Americans. So as theyíre going through they say where you from? Texas. Anybody from Maine? You know everybodyís yelliní out and the guys from other camps are going through, people we didnít know. And they said weíre goiní home and you are too, so we became quite excited. I remember one night it was nighttime, it was dark and some trucks had come up on the road and we said boy, this is it. This is it. So they started calling names out and my name was one of them. So what few little things I had like a blanket and stuff like that I said if nobody makes it you can have that. So I got up on the truck and we drove all night long. Bumpity old road and mostly in low gear going up this mountain and then they brought us down off the mountain to the repatriation point. And they was turning 75 Americans loose everyday compared to the 1000s that they were sending back. For me that was the 29th of August, 1953. Iíll always remember it. I remember seeing that great big old flag down by Freedom Village. Thatís when it really gets ya. But when they brought us home, of course that long trip by boat and I got home and we were really medically dumped. I still had worms inside me and all this. I had a lot of problems, my mouth was just one huge cavity and we were just medically dumped. I became very confused and I actually had this feeling that I wished I was back in camp because you know back in the camp with the Chinese you could count on the sun coming up, you could count on your breakfast, you could count on your dinner and your supper.

"But now I had to think for myself and I almost couldnít do it. I had a real rough time with that. But then as I spent more time finding these guys and going to reunions and talking to them, it made a big difference in my life. But all I can tell you is that a lot of them were basket cases, really had a hard, hard time of it."

During the "Red Scare" --the anti-communist fervor that gripped America during the 1950's-- veterans who had been captured by communists during the Korean War were under suspicion of being collaborators. Shorty Estabrook remembers being interrogated by the FBI upon his return home. Listen (2:03) or Read the entire transcript.

"the thing with collaboration with the Korean War and thereís different figures that you hear is to compare what collaboration in the Second World War meant as compared to Korea. To me collaboration if you tell somebody, Well Iím going to help you people get my unit and my unit was this and give them military information and all this, but if you just simply agreed with or was sympathetic toward their cause, communism, to me that wasnít necessarily collaboration. Youíre not hurting anybody but yourself. There was a lot of time spent on this after we were released. I know Iíd get a call you know on the phone, theyíd say be out in front of your house in ten minutes, thereíll be a such and such Chevrolet, plate number, thereíd be two men in it; have your ID ready. You know FBI guys and such talking about somebody else. So it was quite frightening. They were looking for that. They could care less about military stuff; they were just trying to find out about who became a communist. I think the Chinese had very little success in their program. And I think this is a great testimony to the men that we had over there because we had no education in that regard.

"You know a lot of people had not graduated from high school so youíd think these people would be ripe for something like that, but they werenít."

Jack Goodwin of Waco, Texas describes the long recovery from the psychological trauma of being a prisoner of war. Listen (1:07) or Read the entire transcript.

"The VA they've always treated me nice. I've had a couple; well I had one incident with them. They had me on Librium for years see and then all of a sudden they found out Librium wasn't good for you. Librium is like cocaine and they just cut me off of it and they brought me out there and this black psychiatrist talking about the Librium and the effects it's had on people. I said, how many of them pills you takin'? You sitting there telling me all about, you're just telling me what you've read. You got me climbing the Goddamned wall here.

"They had me taking about 2 or three a day and I took one a day and I probably had 20 bottles left at home, but I didn't let them know that see. But they were cuttin' me off and I was letting them know that they weren't going to cut me off. And that little boy was trying to tell me the effects of it and I was sitting there, well you don't have to tell me the effects of it, I know the effects."

When the Korean War started, it was considered a police action, not a war. For many years, it was only referred to as a conflict, not a war. Veteran John Jackson of Houston, Texas... Listen (1:35) or Read the entire transcript.

"Iwe had always heard the expression, of Korean Conflict. I often say, ďWell how is it a conflict when someone is shooting at you and you are shooing back?Ē And its very hard for me to interpret that. It wasnít right, it just didnít sound right. So we went to Austin, Texas, and our congressmen and senators and the bill was passed that it would be no longer addressed, though they still do it, as he fought in the conflict, itís the Korean War.

"Because most people donít know even though a treaty was signed July the 27th 1954 that was just a treaty. Itís a ceasefire. The war was still going on, so this has become the longest fought war because there has never been an agreement to end it. So when we read that it was the Korean War conflict a lot of us are angered by that because youíre telling us we didnít go to war."

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image credits: left and center - National Archives and Records Administration; right - Department of Defense