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Home | Oral History Archive | Reporter's Notebook

Reporter's Notebook - Korea
by David Cline

American RadioWorks enlisted David Cline's help in gathering the oral histories of Korean war veterans and POW's. Cline is a Massachusetts-based journalist who is working on his graduate degree in U.S. history. For this project, he traveled throughout New England, Texas and California.

One of the major challenges I found on this project was simply finding veterans. As I was making plans for an interviewing trip to Texas in December of 2002, Ted Barker of the Korean War Project Web site kindly agreed to place a small notice in his electronic newsletter to veterans. It said that I was going to be in Texas soon and wanted to speak with veterans, especially POWs and African-Americans.

When Ted posted the newsletter, he sent me a note warning me that my e-mail was about to be flooded. Sure enough, within hours, I had dozens of messages. Among those who responded was Ralph Hockley, who would later give many hours of his time to me discussing his service in both Korea and World War II, and Jack Goodwin and Calvin Williams, who generously shared their memories of having been POWs.

In addition to the many e-mails offering to help or proffering advice, I received an anonymous message from a former Marine enraged that I had specifically sought African-American veterans. "You &*%$#@ liberals are always trying to stir *%@! up" he wrote. "Don't you know that the only color of a Marine is green? Why are you always trying to divide us?"

I did not respond to this e-mail, but I printed it out and carried it with me as I conducted interviews around the country. That someone could be so outraged that we were "stirring up" stories of a segregated military only served to remind me of the great distance that had been traveled in the last 50 years.

During that time, much had been accomplished in terms of creating equal opportunities, both in the military and in civilian life, but it seemed important to document where we'd come from. I wanted to make sure that the interviews I conducted for "Unfinished War" answered the angry marine's questions. I hoped that by the time the documentary hour was over, he would appreciate that there had been a time when all Marines were not green Marines. I wanted him to understand the battles that were fought, not only on the frontlines against the North Koreans and the Chinese, but within our own forces and within our society.

Another encounter that I had on the road frequently comes to mind. One day I made an appointment to meet a veteran in Boston. He asked me to meet him at the American Legion Post where he was a member. When I arrived, he wasn't there. But some other men, all African-American, asked me what I was doing there. When I told them I was interviewing African-American veterans of the Korean War, three hands came shooting out for handshakes. "You've come to the right place," one of the men said. "Welcome."

Fifty years later, the very fact that these hands had been stretched out to me was proof that much had changed. The Korean War-- the racial integration that took place in its foxholes and mess halls-- played a major role in those changes. I hope my angry Marine will see that it does take going back and "stirring things up" to understand and appreciate how things have changed over time.