Interview of Anonymous Korean War Veteran by Stacie Steele (2004)
Question: Okay, how long did you serve for?
Answer: 22 months
Question: 22 months? [nods] What years?
Answer: Went in February 12, 1952, got discharged December 12, 1953.
Question: What branch?
Answer: US Navy.
Question: Why did you choose to enlist?
Answer: I was an activated reservist.
Question: Could you explain a little about what that means?
Answer: I signed for four years in the reserves so that if I had to go in the service I would go into the navy rather than the army and so I was in for about a year, year and a half and I was activated so I had to go and I was suppose to go for two years but the war ended in July and they cut our enlistments for two months so I got out in December rather than February.
Question: What made you choose to go into the reserves? Did you have relatives that were also in the service?
Answer: No, it was just the option that I knew that if I had to go that I would go in the navy and not in the army.
[My Mom walked in the room] Question (to my Mom): Hi Mom. (to my Answer): I remember that you said you were stationed on the East Coast but about where exactly? Was there any specific spot that you were stationed at?
Answer: Well, I went to boot camp in Bainbridge, Maryland, was there three months, and then uh I went to radar school in Norfolk, Virginia and I was there for three months for radar school. Then I was assigned to the USS Brambling which was a minesweeper and I was on that for the rest of the time.
Question: What kind of vessel was that?
Answer: It was a minesweeper, it was very small, we had thirty men and three officers.
Question: What kind of activities did you guys do on the ship?
Answer: We practiced sweeping mines.
Question: What does that involve?
Answer: Well, there’s different types of mines and different equipment used to, ya know, sweep them. We had what they called a ‘pig’ which was used for cutting cables on Mord mines. We had a sonic hammer which we used for setting off acoustic mines or different type of mines of that sort.
Question: You just did practice?
Answer: Yeah, they would put out practice mines and we would cut ‘em or blow ‘em up or whatever.
Question: Bet that was fun…. [both chuckle] …One of the things we’ve talked about in class so far is that amongst soldiers and stuff there is a real sense of comrodry and that you’re all in it together, did you feel that that was kind of true of the people on your ship?
Answer: Yeah, yeah, that’s probably so.
Question: Have you kept in contact with anyone?
Answer: Uh, not lately no.
Question: Different war movies and stories that we’ve read so far have all kind of had a basic underlying theme that soldiers, they don’t really fight to win, when they’re in combat situations, they’re not really fighting to win, they’re fighting for one another, so that everyone goes home safe, do you think that that’s true of combat situations and the people that are in them?
Answer: I don’t really know, that’s a, that’s a tough question.
Question: Yeah that was an interesting thought…
Answer: I guess you really wouldn’t know unless you were in that situation.
Question: What were your general attitudes about war and different kinds of global situations, like World War II before you enlisted? What were your general thoughts on war?
Answer: Well I certainly didn’t like it, I didn’t want to go to war unless necessary, that’s all there is to it.
Question: Did serving in the military change any of your views? Did they change because of your experience?
Answer: No, ya know, perhaps not your views but your… you, I guess, view some things differently after seeing how some things operate.
Question: The people that you were there with, what did they think of the war? What did they think about what was going on? Was there kind of a general sense of …
Answer: Well fortunately we weren’t involved in it, we were just kind of backups so to speak, we were all on the East Coast and the war was, of course, you know in Asia. So it didn’t really affect us.
Question: This is kind of a broad question, it’s actually a three parter, first off how do you define war? Has that definition changed over time? And people who have never been in the military and that type of situation is there anything that you would want them to know about war and being in the military?
Answer: Well I guess that the best definition of war is a bunch of old men get together and send the young men off to war which is a real ya know tragedy of the whole thing. What was the next question?
Question: Has your definition changed over time, did you always feel that way?
Answer: No I guess that’s how it’s always been.
Question: After you were done in the military and you went back to civilian life was there an adjustment period, did you view things differently?
Question: It was real easy to go back in? Cause we’ve read that even people who even people who don’t serve in war in the military can have a hard time…
Answer: I uh, came back, got a job and went to work.
Question: Work at GM?
Answer: No I wasn’t working for GM at the time. I got an apprenticeship and worked at a company that made punch presses and some chop shops.
Question: Because you were on a ship and in the navy and everything when you watch movies about the navy and people on ships and stuff do you think that those are accurate portrayals of what ship-life is normally like? Or do they give off the wrong impression?
Answer: No I think most of it is, most of it is pretty accurate.
Question: Looking back on everything, do you ever regret your decision to enlist?
Answer: No, no, not at all, I think that everybody oughta do some type of military service; I think it makes you grow up a lot quicker and you are aware of just so many things that you wouldn’t have been exposed to cause you meet people from all different cultures and all different walks of life… I think it’s good for everybody, I think everybody oughta.
Question: Are there any typical stories of, ya know what was a typical day like on the ship? Did, ya know, you guys have to get up at a certain time and everything?
Answer: Yeah we had every morning, I think eight o’clock was the colors and there’d be line-ups. And you’d go about whatever you had to do for the day and then, four o’clock you had to line-up again and then you’re off. Unless you’re underway and of course underway, when they’re sailing, you’ve got three divisions, one, two and three, and uh, each division serves four hours, so its just around the clock, so you get four hours off, four hours working, eight hours off then you’re back on four, it just goes around the clock, seven days a week.
Question: Are there any stories, that you can remember, anything that happened?
Answer: Not specifically.
Question: It was just kind of a…
Answer: Yeah, we were on a couple of operations, we rescued a, helicopter crashed one time. We were trying to use helicopters for mine sweeping and one of them crashed. Another time we went out to, out off Panama City I guess and at that time they were trying to find a method for sweeping pressure mines and we were involved in that.
Question: As far as the Korean War goes, when people talk about the Vietnam, there are those people who thought that we shouldn’t be there in Vietnam, and I was just kind of wondering about your take on the different wars that have happened, the Korean War…
Answer: Well the Korean War, I guess we were… I’m just trying to remember how we got involved in it… I guess that the North Koreans came down into South Korea and the UN responded and of course we were the major troops over there and they had them almost backed up to their boundaries when the Chinese moved in and just, just uh, started a whole big war which they didn’t have to and then they backed up to their own border at the 38th parallel and we stopped it.
Question: As far as the being a veteran how do you view the Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and current War in Iraq, do you think that we should be there, do you think what we’re doing is right?
Answer: I think it’s wrong. I don’t think we should be there. Ya know, this one especially. And with the Persian Gulf War I think there was a lot of things that were set up that led us into it and we got in, bit by bit by bit, and this Bush thing, just, to me it’s just crazy.
Question: They say that in the first Persian Gulf War, that’s actually one of my group projects, about the Gulf War and on one website I saw actually said that during the 80’s while Iraq was at war with Iran, we were actually their ally and we were giving them weapons and stuff…
Answer: We do that all over the world, we did that with Cuba, we did that down in South America, it always seems as if we always pick the wrong side to back the wrong side and then they turn on us and we’re left holding the bag.
Question: Right. … This is something that a lot of people say, that during a time of war, some people argue that people shouldn’t be protesting and that during a time of war that an entire country should support the President and the troops whether or not the agree with the war, what do you think of that?
Answer: Well I think that the war is unjust, I think that people oughta be able to say its unjust and I don’t condone people who go out of their way to give comfort to the enemy but I think that we have the right to say if the war is just or not.
Question: Did you vote for George W.?
Question: Was that influenced because of what’s going on in Iraq primarily?
Answer: Yes. Dubya’s lied to us, he went in there first under the guise of weapons of mass destruction and when he couldn’t find weapons of mass destruction, then get off on the terrorist theme, and there were no terrorists in Iraq, and everybody knew it. But yet, he keeps hammering the same point about terrorists.
Question: We were discussing in a couple of my other classes that the main reason to go was not weapons of mass destruction, it was kind of a cover story for economic reasons
Answer: Going for the oil.
Question: Right, we mentioned back in the 70’s when Carter was President, Cheney and Rumsfield were mad that he didn’t try to go in and do anything…
Answer: I didn’t know that but yeah.
Question: And then back when the first Bush was President, they were mad that he didn’t follow Saddam into Iraq and now they’ve got Dubya…
Answer: Now they’ve got Dubya and I think that these guys are just pushing Dubya, I don’t think that he’s bright and I think that these guys are the guys that have got the real power.
Question: In different readings, we’ve had different poets and writers have had different views of what soldiers who have been in combat… how to define them… people have called them Christ-like figures because they’re going and they’re dying for country but other people have actually referred to them as just murderers and I just wanted to know what your take on that was, what your definition of a soldier was?
Answer: That’s a tough one also because it depends on which side you’re on. Like these guys over in Iraq today, ya know I can see why the people over there are fighting our troops because ya know, these are the invaders. I can understand why they’re having so much trouble over there… they don’t want us there in the first place and they’ll do all that they can to get us out of there and the soldiers are the ones that are taking all the grief… taking all the shots, I think it’s crazy.
Question: This is just something that, my teacher might read this and might not like this question but in our class, we are focusing on “modern” wars, since World War I. So we’ve talked about World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War and the current War in Iraq but we’re leaving out the Korean War and the literature about that, as someone who served in that time do you think that that’s necessarily the right thing to do, to leave it out or do you think it should be present?
Answer: Well I think that it’s all part of our history, how can you drop out one portion of our history? And then, ya know, focus on the others and leave out a whole other chapter, doesn’t make any sense.
Question: This last part is about the draft. You said earlier that you thought that everyone should have the military experience, are you aware that there is actually a bill in the Senate right now to reinstate the draft?
Answer: I’ve heard it but I don’t think it will get anywhere because the rich people are not going to send their children over to die unless they have to. We now have an all volunteer army which is made up of people from the lower socio-economic groups; people who don’t really have any money, kids who don’t have jobs, so they go into the military to get college grants and move up in the world.
Question: So you would agree with reinstating in that way people could have that experience you had?
Answer: Yeah, and I think that all these old men that are over there cooking up wars would have different views if their own sons or daughters or family were there…
Question: Yeah, there was actually in the comics, last Sunday, the name of the comic was Opus, I think, with the little penguin guy and they have this monster come in into George W. Bush’s room and he’s like, no I’m not afraid of you at all, the only nightmare I would ever have would be and then there’s a little thought bubble or something and there are cartoon versions of his daughters walk in and say, “yeah, we’re going to war!”
Answer: Yeah, that would put a whole different slant on it, wouldn’t it?
When I first received this assignment, I made a list of all the men I knew who had ever served in the military. Three of these men, my Grandpa, and two of my great Uncles were, in my opinion, the easiest three gentlemen to approach. My great Uncle Tony and great Uncle Jack had been in town in late August and were swapping stories of their experiences in World War II. Uncle Tony had been a paratrooper, and Uncle Jack had been in the unit that discovered Dachau. Even though I had listened to these stories with interest, I wanted to hear what my Grandpa had to say about the Korean War.
When I talked to my Grandma on the phone to ask if my Grandpa would allow me to interview him (Grandpa does not like to talk on the phone under any circumstances), she also gave me a bit of background information. My Grandpa served during the Korean War but was never involved in any military combat situations because he was stationed in a boat on the East Coast of the United States. With that in mind, I began to generate question for him.
On the day of the interview, my Mom and brother Ben came with me to visit with my Grandma. When I came in the house, I must admit I was rather nervous. I had never talked with my Grandpa about his experience and was nervous to say the wrong thing. Apparently he was rather nervous as well; when I came in the door, he cracked a joke about situation and sat down on the couch, ready to get it over and done with. He eyed my tape recorder suspiciously; this time I made a bad joke in an attempt to cut the nervous tension in the air. My Grandma and my Mom did not expect us to start when we did and even interrupted the interview unknowingly; they were just as surprised as I was that my Grandpa was so eager to get the interview over with.
I started with the basic questions. My Grandpa, served in the United States Navy. He enlisted in the reserves to avoid having to serve in the army and was activated February 12, 1952 and was discharged on December 12, 1953; so he spent twenty-two months in the military. Boot camp lasted three months in Bainbridge, Maryland, Radar School also lasted three months in Norfolk, Virginia, and the remaining sixteen months were spent on board the USS Brambling on the East Coast of the United States. The USS Brambling was a minesweeper with about thirty men and three officers on board.
My Grandpa’s experience in the military mirrors the themes and experiences we discussed in class in many ways. In class, we discussed how soldiers do not fight to win wars, they fight for each other, and that there is a real sense of comradery amongst soldiers in general. When I asked my Grandpa about this, he said that it was probably true and that he kept in touch, (though not recently), with the other sailors; he was however, unsure of the attitudes of soldiers in combat because he never saw any combat.
His views of soldiers also mirror many of the typical views of soldiers. When I mentioned the various descriptions people have given to soldiers, ranging from Christ-like figures to murderers, he responded that it all depends on what the soldiers are doing and which side they are on. He gave the example of present day Iraq, “Like these guys over in Iraq today, ya know I can see why the people over there are fighting our troops because ya know, these are the invaders” (6). At the same time he does sympathize with soldiers because he knows they are not “invading” by choice. In that sense, his definition reminds me of both of the two themes from Wilfred Owen’s poem Eight Air Force. They are the invaders, but not by choice, as the soldiers in Owen’s poem are murderers but are not there by choice either. This lack of choice in both situations adds to the Christ-like image of soldiers that Owen presents.
Like Norman Bowker, my Grandpa fit the stereotype that soldiers have difficulty discussing what happened exactly. The first time I asked my Grandpa to expand upon an answer his reply was somewhat exasperated, giving me the impression not to pressure him into longer responses. Instead of asking for him to expand further on his experiences, I left really long pauses between his answers and my next questions. Once or twice he gave a bit more detail but overall he did not go into any details regarding his service. Based on what he said, it seems that he and his ship swept for mines and disabled practice mines set up by the United States military. After a brief pause, he mentioned that at one point, helicopters tried to sweep for mines as well and his ship had to rescue one helicopter crew when their helicopter crashed. He did not mentioned if anyone was injured or died in that crash, in fact he does not even mention the crew, “we rescued, a helicopter crashed one time. We were trying to use helicopters for mine sweeping and one of them crashed” (4). Obviously his eagerness to get the interview done and over with fits into this too. Interestingly enough, he also did not typically make eye contact; he stared out the window he was facing during the interview until we discussed current events. He may have been doing this in an effort to think and clearly remember everything but I did find that rather interesting during the course of the interview.
My Grandpa was also very passionate about current events. Like Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July, whereas Kovic focuses on the negative policies of the President of that time, my Grandpa focused on the negative policies of the current administration. He is extremely anti-Bush because of the current war on Iraq, “Dubya’s [George W. Bush] lied to us, he went in there first under the guise of weapons of mass destruction and when he couldn’t find weapons of mass destruction, then get off on the terrorist theme, and there were no terrorists in Iraq, and everybody knew it. But yet, he keeps hammering the same point about terrorists” (5). During the interview he did not just criticize Bush’s foreign policy, he also mentioned the poor foreign policy of other administrations. When I mentioned the fact that the United States was once an ally of Iraq and gave them supplies, he responded, “we do that all over the world, we did that in Cuba, we did that down in South America, it always seems as if we always pick the wrong side to back, the wrong side and then they turn on us, and we’re left holding the bag” (5). My Grandpa found it very easy to discuss the current global situation and his passionate views regarding it.
My Grandpa’s experience also differed from most of the literature we’ve read in this class. A common theme we’ve discussed is the adjustment period that soldiers experience when they return to civilian life. In The Price of Valor, author Dan Baum discusses the case of Carl and Debbie Cranston. Carl returned from Iraq and it was a huge adjustment because he had flashbacks of combat situations. Not every soldier experiences that severe of an adjustment, and for my Grandpa, there was no period of adjustment. He came back and got a job right away and did not have any difficulty. A year and half later, he married my Grandma.
My Grandpa’s view of the military is also very different from the typical soldiers. My Grandpa endorses the military. In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien discusses his eagerness to avoid service and his decision to go into the military was due to the fact that he was too scared to desert. My Grandpa believes that everyone should serve in the military, “I think everybody oughta do some type of military service; I think it makes you grow up a lot quicker and you are aware of just so many things that you wouldn’t have been exposed to cause you meet people from all different cultures and all different walks of life… I think it’s good for everybody, I think everybody oughta” (4). Continuing this thought when I asked my Grandpa about the possibility of reinstating the draft, he supports it. However, he believes that the government will never reinstate the draft, not because it would be unpopular, but because the rich and powerful of the country would have to send their sons to the military. Therefore, my Grandpa believes those rich and powerful would not stand for the draft to be reinstated. This reminded me of a comic strip that I had seen the previous weekend, which I shared with my Grandpa. The cartoonist drew George W. Bush and his worst nightmare: his two daughters, dressed in military attire, yelling something to the effect of “here we come Fallujah!” My Grandpa’s reply was, “yeah, that would put a whole different slant on it wouldn’t it?” (7).
I do not want to give the wrong impression; my Grandpa feels that people should have experience in the military, not in war. During the interview he said that he never like war, and when I asked him to define war he told me, “well I guess the best definition of war is a bunch of old men get together and send the young men off to war which is the real, ya know, tragedy of the whole thing” (3). As I have mentioned before, he has been against both the Persian Gulf War and the current War with Iraq, he feels that American people have been lied to. He explained what he remembered about how the Korean War began but he did not tell me whether or not he agreed with the war itself. He did mention that because he was not exposed the war, or exposed to any fighting in the war that he and his shipmates were not really affected by the war.
I believe that all of my Grandpa’s views expressed in this paper are very important to tell. The more you know about a person, the more you can understand where they stand on the issues. I can understand my Grandpa’s support of the military because he was a veteran who had a non-combat role that broadened his horizons. It’s also important to include his political views because everyone deserves to be heard and respected, as opposed to expressing your beliefs and being called unpatriotic for them. Out of curiosity, I asked my Grandpa what he thought about the fact that in class we discussed World War I, World War II, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and the current war in Iraq but we skipped the Korean War. He looked a little confused and chuckled and said, “Well, I think that it’s all part of our history, how can you drop out one portion of our history? And then, ya know, focus on the others and leave out a whole other chapter, doesn’t make any sense” (6). Based on this interview, and what my Grandpa said, I think that it would be interesting to learn more about the Korean War and read literature from it.
I am very glad that I was given this opportunity to talk to my Grandpa about his experience and his views. I learned things that I never knew about someone that I have known for all twenty years of my life. My Grandpa, taught me more in one hour than I could ever learn watching taped interviews with total strangers.