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(Al - John Wayne... Yeah Right!)

Albert E. Giaquinto

Bronx, New York-
Korean War Veteran of the United States Army

"I saw plenty of tears shed in Korea.  Some were for the life of a buddy who was killed or severely wounded.  Others were tears after the heat of battle when you realized that the enemy lay dead before you and you were still alive.  Tears after seeing a USO show and wishing you were home.  Tears because you had an argument with a buddy and told him to drop dead, only to find out later that he was killed in action.  Tears because, after thousands of years, we still haven't learned to live as brothers in this world."

- Al Giaquinto

 


[The following is the result of an online interview between Al Giaquinto and Lynnita Brown in December of 2006.  Those wishing to contact Al can reach him at DocG33@webtv.net.]

 Dedicated to Lt. S.K. Lockhart
USMC

Greater love hath no man than this, That he lay down his life for his brother. You not only
saved my life, you taught me to live again in spite of my wounds. For this, I am eternally grateful.
My promise to you will be fulfilled in this life or in the next life.
Semper Fi, my brother in arms.  Semper Fi

Memoir Contents:


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Pre-Military

My name is Albert Eugene Giaquinto of Bronx, New York.  I was born on July 11, 1928 in Bronx, a son of Eugene and Elizabeth Foschini Giaquinto.  I was named after my father and my deceased brother. I was the seventh son. My father was a seventh son, and his father was a seventh son. According to legend, we are either spiritually or psychically gifted or both.  I was the youngest of eight children, having seven brothers and one sister.  They were Alfonse, Frank, Thomas, Albert (died age 4, pneumonia), Guido, William, and Linda.

Mom was born in Campobasso, Abruzzi, Italy in May of 1892 and Dad was born in San Severino, Naples, Italy on November 26, 1886.  Both of them had dreams of the United States being the land of opportunity.  They had no relatives here at the time they immigrated.  Mother left two sisters and one brother behind in Italy.  They all came to the States within the next three or four years.  Dad left five brothers and two sisters behind.  One brother Domenico (Domenick) went to Buenos Aires, South America.  Another one went to Ohio.  My father  lost track of all except for Domenick and another brother, Thomas.

Mom and Dad met here in the States and married in New York City in 1912.  They moved to Springfield, Massachusetts where Alfonse was born in June 1913, and then Frank was born in September 1914.  When his job in Massachusetts was finished, Dad got a new job at the Colt Weapons Company in Hartford, Connecticut.  My brother Albert was born in Connecticut in 1915, then Thomas was born there in June of 1917.  The rest of us were all born in the Bronx.  We always lived in an apartment building in an area known as Little Italy.  Italians made up about 80 percent of the population there.  The rest were Irish, Jewish, and two unrelated Spanish families.

Mom never worked outside of the house.   Dad was an electrician.  He and his older brother Thomas formed their own company, the Bronx Electric Company, but lost it with the market crash in 1929. After the crash, Dad got work intermittently as an electrician and did many odd jobs that he did not care for.  With seven children to feed, he eventually applied for Home Relief (forerunner of modern day welfare).  The only time I was away from home was at summer camp as a boy for two weeks every summer under the welfare program of New York City.

I attended Junior High School 118 at Arthur Avenue and East 179th Street, and then went to Theodore Roosevelt High School at 500 E. Fordham Road, both in the Bronx.  While in school, I worked in the Natales (name of the owner) grocery store after school for $3.00 a week, plus tips on delivery day.  I was 11 years old and worked from 3:30 to 6:00 p.m., then 7:00 to 8:30.  I also did small odd jobs such as painting fences, cutting grass, etc.  My money was turned into the household.  My siblings all worked and chipped in to the general fund as long as they were still living at home.

I remember when World War II broke out.  I was at home with my parents listening to a radio show called La Vida Di Giusseppe Verdi, the Life of Giusseppe Verdi.  The announcer said that President Roosevelt was going to speak.  Immediate reaction was to fall on our knees and pray that the war would end quickly and with victory and the fewest possible casualties.  My brothers Alfonse and Thomas joined the Army.  Alfonse was married and had three children, so he remained stateside during the war.  He asked for and was granted a discharge.  My brother Tom was drafted in September 1942, served only six months stateside, and then was discharged because he had a son born May 1941.  Guido was drafted about the same time, trained at Camp Upton, New York, and was sent to the Pacific.  William (Bill) was drafted in 1943 and also went to the Pacific.  None of my brothers were injured in the war.

Because of my brothers in the military, we followed newspaper and radio reports and read mail from my brothers about their take on the war.  Not only my brothers, but whoever we spoke with considered World War II a justifiable war and felt that victory for the Allies was inevitable.  Local schools ran war bond drives, sometimes holding them in the schoolyard where a local celebrity appeared or in the local theaters.  Stamps and bonds were bought.  My friends and I ran scrap metal drives to collect tin foil from cigarettes and candy wrappers.  My most vivid memories of the war include the music of the time--the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, and many more--fantastic then and still in my memory.  I also remember rationing.  Coffee and sugar were the biggest items on the rationing list.  We also could only get meat once a week.  Fish was plentiful.  Being Italian was a plus because my Mom could turn a simple meal into a feast.  I also remember the air raid drills.  Air raid warning sirens alerted us and then we turned off all lights or the blackout curtains were drawn.  Of course, young guys like myself would look for the girls and smooch in the dark.  The drills rarely lasted more than 15 minutes.  Fortunately, only three neighborhood boys were killed in action.  Sal and Generale were two of them.  I don't recall the name of the third.  All of the neighbors reacted as though it was their own son who had died.

My mom had a CVA at the age of 51 and died in September of 1943.  My sister Linda and I were living at home at the time.  I was 15 years old.  After Mom died, Dad worked as a machinist in a defense plant.  Linda and I were still in school and living at home.  We shared household chores--I shopped and cooked, and Linda cleaned house, did the laundry, etc.  Our other siblings were either married or in the Army.  When I was sixteen and a half, I tried to enlist in the Navy, but was rejected due to color-blindness. Dad said for me to wait until I was 18 and then I could go with his blessing. He was proud of me and made me feel ten feet tall.

At age 17, I started to work for GMC in the parts department, filling orders for customers.  My salary was 40 cents an hour, 44 hours per week.  When I wasn't working, I went to a lot of neighborhood dances.  (If you didn't know how to dance in my neighborhood, you were a "nobody.")  When the war ended, I was working for GMC's Truck and Coach Division at 57th Street and 11th Avenue in New York City.  I got together with some friends and we went to all the neighbors collecting money to celebrate VE Day.  We bought three barrels of beer, put a juke box out on the sidewalk, and had an all-night block party.

Dad developed a thrombus which went to his lung. There was no treatment at the time.  Dad literally drowned in his own fluids, and he died in September of 1946.  After he died, it was just Linda and me.  I had to do a fast growing up.  Although Linda was a year and a half older than me, I treated her like my kid sister.  She could really hold her own.  She was the tallest of all of us, just under six feet tall.  Linda married and her new husband moved in with us. My brother Bill was discharged from the Army and he lived with us also.

In 1948, the GMC plant where I was working moved to New Jersey.  I don't know why it moved--perhaps it was for economic reasons.  The cost of transportation from the Bronx to New Jersey was prohibitive and I didn't want to move away from all of my friends (those old neighborhoods were like extended families), so I enlisted in the Army in August of 1948.  By that time my closest friends had either enlisted, got married, or moved from the area.  My friends Pete Germano and Andy Rivoli were accepted in the Navy and Carmine Collichio and Jimmy Mocci joined the Army.  We all joined because we felt it was our patriotic duty.  My sister Linda was scared and proud that I enlisted.  I was looking forward to the "big adventure."


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Army Training

Basic

The Army paid my railroad fare to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.  The train trip was uneventful, but I made friends with Settimio Damiani from the South Bronx, a guy named Farkas from Brooklyn (I don't recall his first name--I didn't like him anyway), James Sullivan from Long Island, and John "Woody" Wodarski from West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.  We remained friends throughout basic training and assignment to a regular signal corps group.

On arrival at the base, we were taken to our barracks, told to leave our suitcases, taken to a supply building, and issued uniforms and bedding.  We brought that to the barracks and then went to a medical facility where we were examined, questioned, and got shots.  If we asked what they were for--and I did, the answer was, "For your health."

Ft. Bragg was a sprawling area covering thousands of acres near Fayetteville, North Carolina. There were plenty of insects at Ft. Bragg during the summer--mosquitoes mostly.  For some reason they didn't bother me and still don't today.  The other trainees always complained about insect bites, rashes, etc.  Ft. Bragg was the home of the 82nd Airborne Division.  We often heard tanks rumbling on their training missions at all hours of the day and night.  Traffic noise was no problem for big city guys, however.

Our instructors were World War II vets and southerners who had a disdain for New Yorkers.  Black recruits were segregated but we did have a few dark-skinned Puerto Ricans.  The instructors were very hard on them because they had Negroid features.  They were eventually transferred to colored units.  I was in Company C, 3rd Battalion, Special Training Unit of the 82nd Airborne Division.  Lt. Guy Stone was our commander.

Training was three months.  It consisted of breaking down (field stripping) our rifle and putting it together again as fast as possible, as well as obstacle courses.  We had to jump from a 30-foot tower in a harness simulating the effect of a parachute.  Classroom training included learning the military manual and code of conduct, and taking aptitude tests.  We also saw documentary films of actual combat, field hospital surgery (bloody gore), and what venereal disease could do to our genitals.  We had gas mask drills and had to go on 25-mile hikes with full 50-pound packs. Those long hikes were the hardest thing for me in basic.  Going through the hand-to-hand combat courses was another way to learn to use our body as a weapon.  Thank God I did, because it saved my life in Korea.

Our living quarters were long barracks with 20 men in each, plus two private rooms for the platoon leader/instructors.  Reveille was at 5:30 a.m., followed by roll call, policing the area (picking up cigarette butts, etc.), and showering.  Shaving daily was a must.  This was followed by breakfast.  There was no free time during the first three weeks of basic.  After that we were allowed to be off after 6 p.m. and on weekends.  Lights out was at 10 p.m.

We were provided with three meals a day, all we could eat, and most of it was good to excellent, depending on the cook on duty.  My taste in food is flexible.  I like to cook and learn new recipes, so I adapted well to army cooking.  The Army kitchens and mess halls were very clean.  I had some KP duty and it was tedious, of course, but it had to be done, right?

Occasionally we were awakened in the middle of the night for some supposed infraction or whatever pleased the instructor.  I felt that it was for our own good and I accepted it.  Most of the time I appreciated my instructors, but some of them were really stupid rednecks, flaunting their authority.  We learned from that also--how not to treat our subordinates should we be in that position.  Punishment for infractions was usually 50 push-ups (sometimes with a full back-pack on) or running two to five miles, depending on the offense.  Again, it was for our own good.  I never had a problem with my instructors except for my wise-cracks, which they all laughed at. I tended to make puns on things being said.  I have always tried to see the light side of a situation and inject some humor into it.  I generally adapt easily to any situation.  I don't recall seeing any undue punishment for anyone.  Once the entire company was marched out because something was believed to have been stolen from one of the instructors.  We stood out in the rain for about six hours while every footlocker and bedding was examined.  Nothing was ever found.

I don't remember any particular weapons instructor's name.  I had no difficulty in weapons training.  I was proficient with the .45, Carbine, M-1, and Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).  It could fire a machine gun burst or a single shot.  I was proficient on the target range and earned a marksman medal.  I was given the honor of being the company Guide-on Bearer.

By the time basic was over, I felt that I was better prepared to defend myself.  I had never used weapons before and now I was a marksman and could fix my bayonet and be ready to fight without ammo.  There was no war and I wasn't worried about the possibility that I would be in war, but I took my training seriously.  In peace or in war a soldier must be prepared for any eventuality.

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Advanced

After basic I went home on a two-week leave.  I put on my civvies while I was home.  I saw my buddies, went to local dances, took in some movies, etc.  After leave was over, I took the train back to Ft. Bragg. My next orders were for advanced training at signal school, The choice to send me there was based on the results of an audio aptitude test that I had taken while in basic.  I was pleased that I would be going to signal school.  I would be learning something new which I might be able to use when discharged.  Three buddies came with me, Sett, Woody and Sully.

Monmouth was in southern New Jersey.  The grounds were manicured lawns.  It was like living in suburbia.  The training took place in a brick building.  The instructors were always different so I never got to learn their names.  Initial training was audio recognition of tones, technical skills for radio repair, etc.  I don't recall exact dates, but schooling lasted about six months.  We wore head sets and were taught Morse code.  We were also taught trouble shooting for quick fix repair with any material at hand that could be used for makeshift temporary repairs.  I suppose the equipment was sophisticated for the time.  Morse code was important for long and short-range communication.  Voice radio required heavier, more complex equipment.  We also had some of the earliest facsimile machines, which were very primitive and bulky.  It took about 15 minutes to fax an 8x10 sheet of paper.  None of the techniques we learned were 'worthless', even though I suppose they could be considered primitive by modern day standards.  During this advanced training period, I went home almost every weekend to the Bronx, which was about a 2 1/2 hour drive.

After I completed signal school, I returned to Ft. Bragg.  In August of 1949, I went on emergency "maternity" leave.  My brother Guido, whose nickname was Chic, sent a telegram to my unit stating Ann (his wife) had given birth to a baby boy on August 8, 1949.  The telegram said, "Mother and child fine. - Love, Chic."  The Master Sergeant called me in, handed me the telegram, and said, "I guess you want to go home."  He assumed I was the father.  I said, "Sure, but I have no money."  He arranged for train tickets and one month's pay in advance, and I went home for two weeks.  My friends and family all wished me God's Speed and I returned to Ft. Bragg at the end of my leave.  The Master Sergeant gave me hell when I got back, then laughed because he realized it was his goof.

It was after that when we went on maneuvers (exercises of combat situations).  Ft. Bragg was our permanent base, from which we drove 6x6 trucks in and around the Carolinas, and to Louisiana, Texas, and up to Camp Carson, Colorado (that was heaven).  Colorado was and is beautiful country.  The people were very hospitable.  Most "soldier" towns were not nice to the troops.  All of the night clubs were outside the city limits.  Liquor was legally served, and there was music, dancing and entertainment, but nothing risqué except for a stripper at Navajo Hogans.  There was an excellent restaurant in Colorado Springs called the Village Inn.  It was owned by the Mayor of Colorado Springs.  He treated us royally because he said that we acted like gentlemen and not the usual rowdy guys from Camp.  From Colorado we flew up to White Horse, Canada, and went to Alaska in the Arctic Circle for mountain ski and survival training.  This training was fortunate since soon after our return to Ft. Bragg, the Korean War broke out (June 27, 1950).  We were eventually shipped there for combat duty.  Korea is a very mountainous country so the training helped.

I didn't think about how long the war would last--or if it was a war at all.  President Truman called it a "police action."  I thought with that name it would be a crowd control thing.  Yeah, right.  There was no indication that we would be called to serve.  I was close to the end of my three-year regular army hitch.  President Truman must have heard of my good work, because he extended my service for another year.  Ha ha.  What I knew about Korea when the war broke out I had learned in junior high school.  Then it was known as Chosun.  It was not a big geography subject.  I was not anxious to go to war, but that's what I was trained for.

Although the war had broken out in June, we did not ship out as a unit until August.  When we received our orders, we left Ft. Bragg by troop train for Ft. Lewis, Washington.  It took about five days to get there.  I had no girlfriend or car to deal with before I left the country.  Preparations to leave the country as a unit for overseas duty included a brief indoctrination as to the nature of the people of Korea and a series of inoculations.  We packed all of our non-essential gear (civilian clothes, etc.) to be shipped home.  I think we were in Ft. Lewis for three days, after which we got on a liberty ship and set sail.


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Pusan Perimeter

I don't recall the ship's name.  It was a Liberty troop transport ship--it could have been the Greeley.  As far as I know, we (plus military materiel, weapons, etc.) were the cargo.  I honestly do not recall the sleeping accommodations on the liberty ship, other than that they were bunk type beds.  It was the first time on a large ship for me.  I had my sea legs until we hit a hurricane about five or six days out.  The ship's Captain announced that we were heading for rough seas and that we were to stay below decks until the storm passed.  The ship mostly rolled from side to side and sometimes hit a wave head-on, causing the ship to shudder.  This went on for a few hours and just about everyone was seasick and puking.  I was apprehensive--yes, but excited--no.  It was suffocating below decks and the stench was terrible.  I went topside and stood in an open hatchway.  I decided I would rather get wet than stay below.  The storm lasted about six hours more or less.  When we got into the eye of the storm, the sea was dead calm, like a sheet of glass.  It was a sight I will never forget.  My seasickness lasted only the one day.

Entertainment on the ship was card games, walking around the ship, and general camaraderie.  We made no stops along the way, and entered Pusan harbor about the last week of August during the night.  I believe we slept on board the night of arrival.  There were military jeeps, trucks, and personnel around the dock area, an indication that we were now in a war zone.  The tanks and trucks were being off-loaded from the ship.  I believe we got onto waiting trucks and moved about five miles inland to the camp site.

My first impression of Korea was the smell of the country.  It smelled of garlic.  When we got close to the natives, we could smell even more garlic.  Our duffle bags were piled high and we had to rummage through them to find our own.  Each company had their own pile to search through.  It was loosely organized.  We could hear distant cannon fire.  It seemed a long way off.  That day I was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.  I recall briefly meeting "Gunny"--a Marine.  I thought he was Army.  He was a big guy with a broad smile that said, "I'll help you."  He mentioned about being on the line.  I asked, "Hey Sarge, what's it like on the line?"  He said, "Don't tell anybody, but I'm Major Rawlins with the Marines."  I snapped to and saluted him.  He just grinned and walked back to the other officers standing nearby.  I never saw him again.  Once out of the port area, we saw ox carts, some mud and thatch homes, and children and old people walking along the roads.  The natives were always out and about, scavenging through our dump sites or looking for work.  We traveled for about 10 or 15 minutes on foot to the camp site.  It was very hot and humid.  I suppose everyone was affected by the heat and anticipation of what was to come.  My specialty number was 1740, radio operator 0-61.33.  My rank at the time was Pfc.  I made corporal the following month.  I had an M-1 rifle and a .45.  Later I acquired a carbine, semi-automatic.  We were well-equipped.

I didn't know any of the men in the group we were assigned to, but it didn't take long to learn who was watching our back.  They all went mostly by nicknames such as Tex, Stretch, Tiny, etc.  Initially I was told we would go on recon missions--not to engage the enemy, but to assess their strength and positions.  However, within two or three days we were thrown into combat.  I know there were World War II veterans serving, but who they were was not important to me.  We watched each other's back whether rookie or vet.

We moved to the Naktong River area.  Not only did I see the Naktong, I bathed in it. It was very clean at that time.  Several of us went in to bathe without thinking that we may come under enemy fire.  The natives thought we were nuts for doing so because the water was ice cold.  I don't know the river's length.  It varied in width from several yards to about 200 or 250 feet wide.  I don't know the depth in the middle, but it was ankle to waist high along the banks.

On or about September 1st, we were attacked by North Korean troops along the Naktong River.  I think it was the 9th Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division that engaged them, allowing us to move forward without incident.  We were on the battle line of the Pusan Perimeter and we fought our way across the Naktong River.  The river formed a big part of the perimeter.  We got across the river and assembled for whatever the next move would be. Col. George Peploe was the regimental commander who later made General.  I remember hearing that the North Korean army had driven a wedge between us.  We encountered heavy fighting, mortar, and small arms.

On September 13th, we came under heavy mortar fire.  That's when I was hit.  I was wounded by shrapnel to the left knee and inner calf and thigh.  A little higher and I would have been singing soprano.  I was taken to a field hospital, cleaned up, bandaged, given an envelope with APCs (aspirin) for pain, and told to report back to my unit.  I hadn't realized I was hit until I started to run to a foxhole and kept falling.  I thought I wet myself, but it was blood running down my leg.  After I realized I was hit, it was a hot burning feeling in my leg.  When the field medic cut my pants open, I couldn't believe all the blood but it looked worse than it was.  Bits of shrapnel were removed and I was told that the smaller pieces would eventually surface on their own.  I was sent back to my unit later the same day.  No notification of my injury was sent home to the States.  While at the field hospital, I saw one guy with his head heavily bandaged, sitting on a cot.  There were quite a few with their arms in slings.  I saw the first dead enemy the same day I was wounded as I was being transported to the field hospital.

My unit was still in the same place when I got back.  The Inchon Landing had taken place, but we heard very little about it other than the fact that it was successful and we might be going home by Christmas.  Around the 19th of September, the entire division was across the Naktong River.  We were on patrol to pinpoint enemy positions when we came across a patrol that had left about 30 minutes before us.  They had run into an ambush and were all killed.  I knew only one of the men of that patrol, but not his name.  We just happened to be assigned at the same time.  He was about 6'3" and was easy to remember.  The enemy beat him to a pulp.  All of the men had their shoes stolen, as well as weapons and whatever gear they were carrying.

My immediate commanding officer was Captain Harrison, a real chicken-shit jerk.  After the first few weeks, I never saw him again.  My signal battalion was broken up and we were assigned to different units.  I was fortunate to be assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 38th Infantry Regiment.  I was still limping at the time.  I was assigned to Col. John Coughlin as radioman and "shotgun" rider.  Colonel Coughlin was about 6'3".  He always seemed to be in deep thought.  He was kind of fatherly in a way--you know, "be careful," "watch your back."  The Signal Company was not broken up.  Rather, men like myself were picked out and assigned to different battalions and/or companies.  HQ & HQ was the brain or central control of the regiment.  Although we came under enemy fire, we were not "line" men.  Our unit coordinated the battalions within the regiment.

The enemy was a mixture of young and old, mostly young.  Some were as young as 13 years of age or so.  Almost all were conscripts.  The officers seemed to be career regular army.  They wore clean dress uniforms.  The fighting men wore heavy quilted jackets and pants in the cold weather.  The food they carried was wheels of refried beans, dry fish, or rice, which they could eat raw or cooked.  Most of their weapons were either Japanese or Russian "burp" guns, so-called because of the sound they made when fired.  Most were fierce fighters.  They were told we would eat them alive if we captured them.

The reality of war came home to us when we were the ones involved in it.  When I was a young man, none of the movies depicted war as it really is.  The movie "The Longest Day" about the Normandy Invasion came close.  The recent movie "Saving Private Ryan" was, to me, the most realistic.  It showed the blood and gore as it really is.  In the movies, one sees a distant explosion and hears it at the same instant.  In reality, the explosion is seen first and the sound doesn't come back for several seconds.  Napalm explodes in a huge fireball, but almost no sound is heard.

Many of the South Korean officers spoke fluent English.  I enjoyed being with the natives and tried learning the language.  I kept a small notebook and wrote phonetic translations of key phrases for my own benefit.  The Korean language is guttural and somewhat difficult to learn.  Japanese, however, was easier.  The rhythm of the language was more like the Romance languages.  I learned more Japanese in two weeks than I did Korean in one year.

Like any country, Korea had its regular army and they had their own protocol for training them.  They were conscripts or draftees.  The Korean officers would go into a village, round up all the men, and say, "You are now in the Army."  Talk about "selective service."  Ha!  As long as we were alongside the South Korean troops, they were good fighters, but they ran away when they felt alone.

I didn't really perceive Korea as a country worth defending at the time.  I was obeying my country's order as a soldier to do as told.  When I discussed this with the natives (with Kim as my interpreter), stating to them that we were there to free them from communist oppression, they asked, "What are communists?"  They understood the desire for unification of North and South Korea.  They were not educated people but rather, mainly farmers, herdsmen, miners, etc.

We pushed north through the Pusan Perimeter by trucks, jeeps, tanks, and personnel carriers.  Of course, if we encountered enemy, we dismounted and fought.  The longest single push we made was about 75 miles almost unopposed.  About the middle of October 1950, we took heavy mortar fire.  When mortar fire rained down on us, we sought shelter in a foxhole or under a tank, if there was one nearby.  The artillery unit had been moved to another area, so a tank battalion came in, set up a triangle, and blasted the top off that mountain until the enemy that survived came out waving the white flag.

Any time we were withdrawn from a battle it was to a place called a reserve area.  We saw refugees by the thousands.  They were put behind barbed wire enclosures for their protection as well as ours.  The farm homes were usually one big room, mud-brick walls and floors covered with rice grass mats.  The fire pit was outside on one end of the house and had channels running under the floor to the other end where the chimney was.  That was the reason for the grass mat floors.  Quilts were rolled out and a lighter quilt was used as a cover.  They were very warm and comfortable except for the smell of garlic and red hot peppers hanging all over.  The Koreans loved their spice.


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The Gauntlet

By the last week of November 1950, we had advanced as far north as Kunu-ri, North Korea, which was in a coal mining area. Kunu-ri was located in a high mountain range south of the Yalu River that separates North Korea from China.  I understand that it was an important communications center.  Frankly, I never saw a village at Kunu-ri, yet the natives seemed to appear out of nowhere.  The roads leading to and from it were hard-packed gravel and two lanes, although narrow. They were twisting and often treacherous if they "hung" on a cliff side.

One day our patrol had just returned from reconnoitering along the Yalu. I reported to Col. John Coughlin that there were as many as a "guesstimated" thousand heavily-armed Chinese soldiers on the other side of the river. He indicated that it was natural for them to monitor the border and did not consider them a threat.  Just as he entered the CP to speak with Gen. George Peploe, small arms fire broke out from our troops shooting into the hillside behind us.  I shouted, "Cease fire, cease fire."  Then I shouted in Korean, "Surrender or be killed" two or three times. Four old men dressed in the typical balloon pants, white jackets and stovepipe brimmed hats, and about five seven- to eight-year old boys came walking down the hillside with their arms up in the air. After being questioned, they sat down and enjoyed a Thanksgiving turkey dinner with us.

I never questioned whatever good fortune we received, including the turkey dinner.  Maybe it was flown in to us.  Air support was good to excellent.  We heard about our Air Force fighting Chinese pilots in Russian MiGs in air space known as "MiG Alley" because of the proximity to the many mountain passes where the air battles took place.

Two days later, on November 30, 1950, we were attacked by an invading force of Chinese soldiers under the cover of darkness.  They came charging out of the mountains on foot and on horseback with bugles blaring the charge and the Chinese whooping and hollering. At first it was reported that a battalion-size force had hit us. Then it was a regiment, division, etc. Later we were told it was twelve infantry divisions with approximately 340,000 men.  They came so fast they ran right through some of our positions and we were able to fire on them from behind.

There was a horseshoe-shaped road running through a defile about six or seven miles long. The Chinese knew well in advance what they were doing. They had established machine gun nests and heavy mortar emplacements on both sides of the road. They had also set up roadblocks--mostly our own vehicles, towed artillery pieces, and a tank or two that had been disabled.  It took us almost 72 hours to move through those six miles, which later became known as "The Gauntlet." The terrain was difficult to manage unless someone had mountain guerilla training.  Sniper fire was coming at us from all sides as well as heavy mortar fire.  As I said, the Chinese had this well planned.  They had 30 or 40 deep-dug bunkers with heavy and light machine guns ripping us to shreds.  We didn't dare lift our head to see where the bullets were coming from.

The 38th was smack in the middle, and the 9th and 23rd ROK army and a Marine detachment were on our flank.  The entire 8th ROK army was decimated and scattered all over.  By now we were getting incoming heavy mortar and artillery fire. The 2nd Infantry Division was ordered to stand and hold the line while the American 8th Army and X Corps with all the supporting UN forces and the 1st Marine Division fell back to establish a new line of defense at Pyongyang.  We brought up tanks to push the damaged vehicles off the road. It was a slaughter and came down to hand-to-hand combat for many of us as the Chinese pushed through our lines.

At one time I sidestepped an enemy soldier who charged at me with fixed bayonet and I gutted him. He was screaming what sounded like, "Jesus man, Jesus man."  He reached into his jacket for what I thought was a grenade, and with his bloodied hand he thrust a wad of paper into my hand before collapsing in a heap. I was covered in blood.  I didn't know how much of the blood was mine or the others in that skirmish.  Later, I opened the wad of paper the Chinese soldier had pushed on me and found two photographs of a young woman. I went to our Chinese interpreter and repeated what the young soldier said to me.  It turned out that he was saying, "XiXu Mai."  He wasn't calling on Jesus, he was telling me "XiXu Mai" was his wife. I have her picture in my files. For 56 years and still to this day, I pray that she found a good man to replace the one she lost at such a young age.  He couldn't have been more than 17 or 18 years old.  This hand-to-hand combat kill was just one of several bloody encounters that I (and others) had with the enemy as we were running the "gauntlet."

We had a two-day snow fall of no great consequence.  The ground was covered with snow and ice.  Temperatures ranged as low as 20 t0 30 degrees below zero F.  In the extreme cold many of the vehicles were fitted with a gas-operated heated coil to warm the oil pan, so the vehicles stayed running.  It was quite windy most of the time.  The snow was dry and deep in drifts and windswept in some areas.  To the best of my knowledge, the weather had no affect on our weapons.  If there was a kitchen set up, we got hot food.  But mostly we had C-rations.  If we kept the canned goods close to our body, they didn't freeze up and burst.

I know a lot of guys complained that they didn't have a bowel movement in as long as a week.  I had better control I guess, and went whenever or wherever I was. As much as I don't like winter, I dealt with it.  Someone once told me that the body "shivers" when it's cold to increase circulation and warm the body.  So I shivered.  My mental state was almost always good.  I joked around and tried to make the best of a bad situation.  The fear was paralyzing for some, but once engaging the enemy--whether in hand-to-hand combat or firing point blank, we didn't have time to be afraid.  Only after it was over and we sat down for that cigarette did some realize that they may have pissed their pants or even soiled themselves.  Sometimes we laughed or cried or both, especially if one of our buddies was killed or severely wounded.

From what I was told, air support was sketchy while we were running the Gauntlet because of the weather and the 'bunching' of our forces going through that narrow defile.  I don't recall seeing an air drop.  The tanks were not useful as a fighting machine at the Gauntlet because they were not able to bring their guns to bear on the enemy positions that were well-entrenched in bunkers on both sides of the road.  They became more useful as bulldozers to clear a path through the Gauntlet.  They pushed the disabled vehicles off the side of the road, opening up the road for our troops and trucks to start moving through.

One American division, the 2nd Infantry Division--Second to None, stood the test.  But we paid a very dear price. When we got back to the new line, we were told we had lost 4,960 men KIA. The estimate of the Chinese losses in that action was put at more than 90,000.  We tried to pick up as many of our wounded and dead as possible.  The Marines shouted, "Leave no man behind."  We took up that shout as well.  Every man who experienced the Gauntlet was a hero.  My own houseboy Kim let off a round from his M-1 that left my ear ringing all day.  Before I could bawl him out, a dead Chinese soldier fell off the berm we were standing under.

I was standing with my back to a high berm with about ten other GIs and Marines, my houseboy Kim, and Major Frazell. I believe he was with Quartermasters. He was rather portly and moved slowly. He was probably exhausted, as we all were. A Jeep pulling a low trailer approached us and Major Frazell, Kim and I ran like the wind. Frazell, believe it or not, was the first one to jump on the trailer. He extended his hand as I ran alongside the trailer. He tugged and I jumped and clambered on, with Kim right behind me.  Thank God we finally cleared that death trap.

After the Chinese hit us and pushed us south, I lost most of my clothes except for three extra pairs of socks that I kept under my shirt and one pair of boxer shorts.  I saw a Red Cross truck and asked if they had underwear, socks, and handkerchiefs.  They gave me all that, plus toiletries, writing paper, pencils, etc.

Running the Gauntlet was something I would not wish on my worst enemy.  I felt this was the most dangerous time for me while I was in Korea. I really didn't know whether I would live or die. Hand-to-hand combat was my worst experience--to take the life of another that way, screaming obscenities and "die, die", being covered in blood, not knowing how much was mine or the soldier I had just gutted with my bayonet.  When it was over, I prayed for his soul, as well as my own, for what happened. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that it was his life or mine. It never dawned on me how the war was progressing. I thought we were invincible and victory would be ours. It may surprise those reading this memoir, but I didn't find being in Korea hard to take.  Still, I had nightmares for the first 15 or 20 years after coming home.


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Daily Life

The only time I spent in a bunker was a matter of curiosity. It was dug down about five feet in the side of a hill and excavated so that even a six-foot tall man could stand up. It was perhaps 15 or 20 feet long, with slits re-enforced with planks or logs for rifles or machine guns. When I went back to the bunker that night, I shined my flashlight at the opening and saw a pair of big eyes shining back at me. I struck out bayonet fashion with my M-1 and hit something hard. My heart was pounding. The "eyes" turned out to be rotting tree roots that emitted a phosphorescent glow when hit with light.  I preferred sleeping in my sleeping bag on open ground (weather permitting) or in one of the native homes. The bunker was dank & earthy smelling. Foxholes were not for living in--rather, for protection when being fired upon by small arms or mortar. For those who took a direct hit from a mortar shell, it didn't matter whether they were in a foxhole or a trench. The trenches were either natural defiles or dug as runways between positions on the field of battle.

Keeping clean in the Pusan perimeter area was no problem. When we were on the move, there just wasn't time to think about bathing, shaving, or the like. Some of the guys had body lice, but I never did.  I have no idea how they got them or how it was treated.  If we were lucky enough to get to an area that was relatively quiet, we might even get a chance to wash our fatigues. That's where a good houseboy was worth his weight in gold. I recall being in one area that we had just liberated. It was late September and cold. I stopped at a farm house and let the man know I wanted to bathe. He thought I was nuts. The "bath-house" was about the size of a phone booth. A large cauldron about waist high was in the middle. I had to step up on a stool to get in the water. Underneath the cauldron was a fire pit. When the water was hot, he called me and I stripped and climbed in. Now he really thought the Americans were crazy. What I didn't know was that the little wooden buckets in the booth were used to dip into the cauldron and pour the water over one's body before getting into the cauldron. We were supposed to soap up and get rinsed off first, then climb in and soak. Because I wasn't 'clean' when I stepped into the water, the owner of the bath-house had to spill all that water out and start all over for the next GI who was waiting to bathe.

Food on the line was C rations, which consisted of canned spaghetti and meat, franks and beans, stew, dry crackers, a tin of margarine, a tin of grape jelly, chocolate bar, and small pack of cigarettes with four cigarettes in it. I'm not a picky eater, so I had no problem.  (However, being of Italian heritage, the food I missed most from home was a good spaghetti and meatball dinner.)  We were warned not to eat the native food, but I figured the best way to acclimate myself to the environment was to eat off the land like the natives. I did pretty well. In fact I fried a couple of eggs sunny side up, put them over a bowl of rice, mixed it well, and had the family taste it.  They loved it. I had just received a package from home with pepperoni and a couple of tins of anchovies that I shared with them. They patted me on the back, smiled a lot, and kept repeating, "Itchee bon, itchee bon. Number one."  "When in Rome" worked for me.  Most of us who shared a tent--four or five guys--had one or two civilian "houseboys" to help us.  Once we asked them to go into town to get suki-yaki, a chow-mien type of dish made with beef.  They said, "No beef," so we said pig meat.  Again, "No pig."  We noticed arriving in that area were flightless ducks, so we told them to make it with duck meat.  They left shaking their heads and came back a few hours later with two one-gallon cans of cooked food.  We ate with gusto, but they did not join us.  We figured they ate in town.  Then I pulled out a piece of meat with hair on it.  I asked Kim, "This is duck, right?  Quack, Quack?:  He said, "No duck.  Arf, Arf."  One of the guys started puking, which caused his buddy to do the same.  "Hey," I said, "Meat is meat."

The most memorable meal I had in Korea was in Seoul. Major Frazell, two other officers, and five enlisted men went to a Chinese restaurant. We sat at a table adjoining a large griddle, where the chef commenced a dinner lasting four hours. It included egg rolls prepared right in front of us, beef and chicken strips, steamed bok choy, a Chinese cabbage, lots of rice, and a watery broth made from chicken heads and legs. There was also plenty of hot sake, rice wine, and green tea. Eight men were over-stuffed and a little tipsy.  That meal cost 16 American dollars.

Thanksgiving was great too. Turkey with all the trimmings was served and our beer and whiskey rations came at the same time. It was bitterly cold and windy that day--maybe 20 or 30 degrees below zero F. Christmas was celebrated in the Yongdong-po area, a suburb of Seoul. We took the foil wrappings from equipment crates. (I recall that the foil was in different colors, blue, yellow and red. Don't ask me why, they just were.) We shaped them into ornaments and hung them on a scraggly five-foot pine tree. The natives looked and wondered at the crazy Americans. Some of the Korean Christians understood and explained to the other Koreans, but they still thought we were crazy.

I smoked and gambled before entering the military.  As I mentioned, cigarettes were always included in our rations in mini packs or once a month in cartons.  Long after Korea, I finally gave up smoking on Presidents Day in February 2003 just before my wife Gloria died.  I did it cold turkey and never smoked again.  A beer and whiskey ration was also given to us, although not too often.  I preferred scotch.  When there was time, a lot of gambling took place.  Poker and craps were the favorite, and sometimes thousands of dollars were at stake. 

Settimio Damiani and I became close buddies before we got orders for Korea. We met at the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx when we shipped out to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina for basic training. We were together until we shipped to Korea, where he was placed with the 9th Infantry Regiment and I with the 38th Infantry Regiment. We ran into each other periodically and came back to the States at the same time. He visited me at home and met my wife Gloria and our daughter Patricia. After he married, he moved to New Jersey and we lost track of each other. I haven't heard from him in more than 30 years. I can't believe it. We were like brothers.

Prostitutes were always in the reserve areas. A pimp would come into the area and say that we could get laid for a carton of cigarettes. About five buddies and I went, including my houseboy Kim. There was a long line of GIs, including men from the Dutch and Turkish detachments, waiting to get in. We paid our carton of butts at the door and were taken to a room. The women were all young and attractive. They didn't want to be fondled--in other words, no lovemaking. It was "Bam, Bam, thank you mam," and we were out the door in five minutes. A real assembly line. That was my first and only experience with a Korean prostitute. As soon as I returned to base, I went to sick call for a shot of penicillin, just in case.  We had convinced our houseboy to come with us to the "cat-house" to lose his virginity. He always carried his carbine wherever he went. Well, he was moaning and groaning and when he reached his climax, he let out a whoop of joy and squeezed off a round, hitting a twenty-gallon clay jug with some concoction in it that spilled out all over. Everybody jumped up and someone yelled, "It's a raid." Guys and gals were running around half naked trying to get out.

Mail call was usually good for me. Coming from a large family, there were at least one or two letters for me from my sister, brothers or nieces. My sister usually sent packages, but the family chipped in the different goodies, like canned fruit, candy bars, pepperoni, cans of anchovies, homemade cookies, etc. I never asked them to send me anything. They just did. Packages I received always came in good condition. Other GIs got packages with pretty much the same as I got, except for the Italian goodies. The only bad news was a "Dear John" letter one of the guys got. He moped for a few days, but got over it when the mortar shells started raining down on us.

I was raised as a Roman Catholic and attended Sunday Mass at home regularly. In Korea, when the Chaplain was in the area it was Sunday regardless of the actual day of the week. One day the Chaplain came over to me and said that he had been there all week and didn't see me at mass once. He asked why.  I said that I could not believe that God would allow all this killing to go on. He replied, "That's the key word you used-- 'allow.'  Freewill allows us to choose our way to live. When that way is threatened, we defend it."  We spoke from 8 p.m. that night until breakfast the next morning. He concluded that I would find my way back when I was ready.  I remember one guy in a foxhole making the sign of the cross and asking for Jesus' help.  Someone said to him, "Hey, man.  You're Jewish."  He replied, "Right now, I need all the help I can get."

I remember walking into a bombed-out school building and finding a crate about three feet high by two feet wide and a foot and a half deep. The front doors had a small padlock which was easy to break open.  It was a foot pedal pump organ. I carried it down to the Chaplain's tent and showed it to him. He said, "Great Al.  You play the "Introit" at mass tonight."  I told him I didn't know how to play. Mass was at 4 p.m. I was seated up front to serve as altar boy. The Chaplain called me up, sat me down at the organ, and said "Pump and hit the keys."  I started to play.  Although I had never played in my life, the keys responded. At the end of the mass, again the Chaplain said, "Play the processional," and I did. To this day I still don't play any instrument. Try as I might, hitting the keys now only produces discordant sounds.

The American women I saw in Korea were the angels of mercy, our nurses.  They put themselves in harm's way to care for us. Then there were the many entertainers that came--Bob Hope, Al Jolson, Jack Benny, and girls, girls, girls. As much as it was uplifting, it also made us miss home a little more.   There are always lighter moments in any wartime situation, and that was true in Korea. Besides the occasional show, every outfit had its storytellers, jokesters, and practical jokers.


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Central Portion

When we got down to the assembly area after running the Gauntlet, we found out that the 38th was assigned to the central portion of the line. It had the most treacherous mountain terrain so far. During the period February through May 1951, the Chinese continued to push us further south. We had a short respite where we were able to replace some of the men and equipment we lost. By mid-February, we lost an additional 1,200 to 1,600 men, but not before we estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Chinese dead and about 10,000 enemy wounded. The enemy forces still continued to swarm and outnumber us.   It was a deadly sea of humanity. They continued to pushing us--they were determined to destroy and annihilate the 2nd Infantry Division.

It's difficult to remember exactly if reserve time was a week or two or more. We went back on line several times from February to May--at least parts of the division did. Skirmishes continued during the entire time period. Ground was lost and then regained. In late April, things began to get tough again. In mid May, Colonel Coughlin was informed by Gen. George Peploe (who got word from General MacArthur in Japan) that six Chinese infantry divisions were preparing a new offensive. That was 60,000 enemy.  We were informed that about 100,000 to 150,000 Chinese were about to hit us. They did in May. It was a massacre for the Chinese, but they kept advancing over their own dead bodies to try to destroy the 2nd.  We suffered great losses ourselves, but we held fast. Coughlin ordered the Dutch battalion to launch a counter-offensive on one of the Chinese positions which was blocking the withdrawal of a Marine unit (number unknown) and elements of the 38th. The 3/38 called down friendly artillery barrage on our own positions. It worked, but we suffered an additional 1,200 killed, wounded, and missing in action.

For the Gauntlet and this action, the entire 38th Infantry Regiment was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, Korean Service Medal with three bronze service stars, Korean Presidential Citation, and the United States Presidential Unit Citation.  In a full division parade, General Ruffner commended the entire 2nd Infantry Division for its heroic stand in the face of a mighty onslaught of enemy forces to stem the tide. It was this effort that won us the Presidential Unit Citation from President Harry Truman.  I don’t recall the hill numbers. Wonju or Uijongbu come to mind.

I went on R&R in late May or early June 1951 to Osaka, Japan for ten days. Four buddies and I, one whose last name was DuChesne from Connecticut, rented a house for the ten days. The owner and his wife supplied us with girls. The bathroom was just that--a bathing and shower area that was fully tiled from floor to ceiling. It had a natural, hot spring-fed tub that could easily accommodate eight people. The showers were cold water only. Oaken buckets were alongside the hot tub. We had to wet ourselves down by shower or bucket, soap up, rinse off, then get into the hot tub. The water cascaded down a natural rock formation at the back of the tub. I dreamed that some day I would have one of those. (It never happened.) Our hosts asked what we wanted for breakfast. One of the guys said steak and sliced tomatoes and a quart of gin or scotch. That was our daily fare. We walked around town with the girls and ate out. I had a frog legs lunch for the first time and it was out of this world. They looked more like chicken legs and were similar in taste, except more juicy. That lunch cost us $2.00 a couple. I also bought a dress and shoes for the young lady I was with. Her name was Yoshiko Uda. Leaving her to return to Korea was tear-filled for both of us. Strange how such a bond can be formed in so short a time. Now I understand.  I wrote to Yoshiko once, but never got a reply.  After I returned to the States, I also wrote to my houseboy Kim, but only got one reply. I contacted the American Red Cross and they weren't successful in locating him either.


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Going Home

By June the 1st Marine Division hit the Chinese hard, allowing us to finally break free of their hold on us. We arrived at IX Corps reserve area where we got a forty-day rest period. Those of us who were on the line longest rotated out of Korea.  After R&R, I was back in Korea for about one or two weeks when the order for me to rotate home came. My good buddy M/Sgt John Carpenter, who received a 2nd Lieutenant field commission about two or three months prior, told me. Even though he was now a commissioned officer, I still called him "Sarge."

The last hours with the unit were quiet, with nervous laughter and a lot of "manly" holding back of tears, although not always successfully. There were about 20 guys from my company returning home. I was happy to leave, yet at the same time sad to leave new friends behind. Bonds are formed quickly in time of war.

Trucks took us from the reserve area to the docks in Pusan. We boarded immediately and sailed about three days after boarding. The date of departure was August 15, 1951. I had served in Korea 11 months, 27 days--just four days shy of one full year. While in Korea, I held the rank of corporal. According to my DD214 form, I made S/Sgt (E-5) in December of 1951, but I didn't know it until many weeks later.

I think I was too excited to recall the procedures we went through before and after boarding the ship. I don't even remember the name of the ship. We sailed to the port city of Sasebo, Japan, where other troops and civilian families of officers boarded.  I don't remember who all was on the ship. I looked for Settimio "Sett" Damiani, John "Woody" Wodarski, and James Sullivan, but never found them on board. I managed to escape duty on the trip.  I felt like a tourist.

Back at the dock in Sasebo just before we set sail for the States, we saw many replacements and materiel getting on other ships going to Korea. There was the usual cheering and friendly jeering back and forth. The trip home took about 14 or 15 days.  It was a pleasant, uneventful trip with calm waters all the way back to the States.

A great feeling overcame many of us when we were able to see land.  I can't remember if we docked near San Francisco or Ft. Lewis, Washington. Some relatives of the troops who lived on the west coast were there to greet us. We all cheered and waved as if they were there for all of us. When we landed, we were told by dockside crews that all souvenirs would be confiscated. I gave up a duffel bag full of Russian handguns, a stripped down "burp" gun, Italian Beretta, German Lugar, commemorative dagger with the Swastika emblazoned on it, and quilted Chinese jacket and pants. I found out later that I could have taken everything home.

Our first stop at the port was the paymaster's office. I hadn't been paid in four months. When we got our release, some 40 or 50 of us chartered a twin-bodied Constellation for the flight to the east coast. There was one stopover midway, and then on to Idlewild Airport (now JFK). There were no bands, no photographers, and no cheering crowds to meet us.  One of the guys on the flight had called his family in New York and they met him when we landed.


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After Korea

I was home in the Bronx for a 30-day furlough and then I reported back to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, where I was assigned to the 66th Signal Battalion as a platoon sergeant.  We trained new recruits, many of them draftees, emphasizing that signal corps men were just as apt to be on the front line as an infantryman. I did not want to become attached to anyone, but told them they had to have a buddy system to watch each other's back.

I was not the type to go wild after leaving Korea and getting back home. Although I maintained my sense of humor, I did develop a more serious sense.  I didn't re-enlist. I thought about it--in fact, I went to the Sergeant/Major's office to ask about the number of furlough days I had accumulated.  A new policy was put into effect that said if you had more than 60 days coming to you, you would lose everything over the 60 days. The Sergeant/Major said, "Why are you worried about furlough time?  You get discharged in two weeks."  I was discharged May 6, 1952.

Immediately after my discharge I went back to General Motors to get my job back. Since the division that I worked in was no longer in New York City, I was offered a position in the overseas sales department, placing sales of the Chevrolet model to Argentina, South America. I left after three months. Promises made by GM never were met. I then got a job at Greer Hydraulics, a company in Brooklyn, New York, that manufactured test equipment for the U.S. Air Force and commercial airlines industries. My job there was as a mechanic, building and assembling the test stands.

I married Gloria Muro in 1953.  I first met her when I was in junior high in 1940.  I was 11, she was 13.  A dance was always held the first week of school.  I asked Gloria to go with me.  She politely said no.  (An 11 year old boy is just a boy, while a 13 year old girl is a young lady.)  Eventually we went our separate ways.  Time passed.  World War II was over and I enlisted in the Army in 1948.  I was discharged in 1952.  I met her again while shopping with two of my nieces who were pretty close in age to me.  I asked her if her name was Gloria and she said yes, but she didn't know me.  I named several of her friends and where she lived.  She still didn't know who I was.  Then I showed her a photo of my sister.  Hallelujah, immediate recognition.  Then she said, "I still don't remember you."  Well, the "boy" had grown into a man, which is why she didn't remember me.  I asked for and she gave me her phone number.  I called later that evening and asked her out to a movie.  We stopped for a late night snack.  I asked her if she thought two people could get along on $40.00 a week, a decent salary for the time.  She said yes.  Before I asked my next question, I told her that I didn't expect an immediate answer, but I wanted her to think it over and give me an answer in about one week.  The question was, "Will you marry me?"  When she told her mother, she said, "Get rid of him.  He's a nut."  That was May 8, 1952.  Ten months later, we were married on March 21, 1953. at Our Savior's Roman Catholic Church in the Bronx.  Gloria had a six year old daughter, Patricia, from a previous marriage.  It was a first marriage for me.  As time went by, daughters Elizabeth and Catherine, five grandsons, three granddaughters, two great grandsons and two great granddaughters were added to our family.

In 1954, Greer Hydraulics moved to California and I was job hunting again. I responded to several insurance company ads and was called by New York Life. They sent me to their school, which I completed in six weeks and then took and passed the New York State licensing exam.  I stayed there about five years. My landlord suggested I go to work for the company where he worked as a milkman. The salary was good so I took the job and stayed there from May 1959 to February 1971.  In the interim, at Gloria's urging, I applied to chiropractic college in New York City. Something always popped up and I would have to forfeit the deposit for the entrance exam. Finally in September 1963, I started college. I missed the deadline for veteran's aid by three months. Now money became a very big issue.  There was an opening for a building superintendent in the neighborhood and I took that as a second job. Then as the cost of a college education got higher, I took a third job as a sales clerk in Lorry's men's department. I held down all three jobs, completed a six-year course in four years, and even managed to take extra classes for medical hypnotherapy. After graduating, I worked in a Medicaid clinic as a salaried employee. In 1972, I bought a practice from a retiring doctor and kept that until May 31, 2006.

Gloria and I had a happy life and we met numerous celebrities during the course of our marriage.  Among them was Susan Hayward, with whom we celebrated our wedding anniversary in a famous New York restaurant.  She was sitting at the table next to us and I asked her for her autograph.  She called the waiter over and asked him to put our two tables together.  We spent a wonderful night visiting with her, and then she graciously picked up the check when we left.  Frank Sinatra went to my brother's engagement when he was singing with Tommy Dorsey. I met Clark Gable when I worked at the McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.  President George Bush & his wife Laura sent Gloria and I a congratulatory card for our 50th wedding anniversary. My nephew Bob is a singer with the Regents, a 1960s "Doo-Wop" singing group. Their big hit record was "Barbara-Ann."

In 1995, Gloria developed breast cancer. I was seeing patients six days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. with a break for meals. Gloria was my right-hand man throughout my years of practice. Because of her health, I cut back on my hours and number of days at the office. I wanted to spend as much time as possible with her. My practice dwindled down to three days a week--two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. For three years Gloria was treated for "GERD," a reflux disease. It was a misdiagnosis. Because she wasn't getting better, I took X-rays of her chest at my office and saw a few shadows in her lungs. I then brought Gloria to a colleague of mine and asked him to do a PET-scan. Her lungs lit up like a Christmas tree. She had walnut-sized tumors in her lungs. They were inoperable and she was given 12 months to live--18 months with chemo and radiation.

We celebrated our 50th anniversary on March 21, 2003.  It was bitter-sweet.  She was in the final stages of terminal lung cancer.  Although Gloria was never told, she knew her days were numbered.  She was hospitalized for a week, with me sleeping beside her either in a chair with my head on the bed or on the floor so I could stretch out a bit.  Finally Gloria said, "Al, I want to go home."  I took her home.  On the morning of April 4, just two weeks after celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary, she awakened me saying she needed to urinate but was not able to get out of bed. I got the bed pan and it took her 45 minutes to pass some water. Then she said, "Shower."  I said, "Honey, how can I get you into the shower?"  She said, "Not me, you."  She knew my routine in the morning was shower, shave, and breakfast. Just as I finished, I heard her call weakly. I went to her bedside. She whispered, "Hold me.  I love you.  Goodbye."  Then she died in my arms.  I had kissed my dead parents and brothers, who died before Gloria. They were all stone cold. When I kissed Gloria for the last time before they closed the casket, her lips were still warm and soft. I jumped back, stared at her, then kissed her again. It was not my imagination. Her lips were warm and soft. Even in death she had class. She didn't want me to feel a cold death, but the warmth that she expressed throughout our marriage.

I have met two other women since Gloria's passing.  I went to Ohio to meet one and stayed with her for two days.  A family emergency called me away and I never went back to her.  Then I met another on the Internet.  Without going into details, I fell head over heels for her.  The snag was that she was married.  We both agreed it would be platonic.  Marriage is sacred to me, mine as well as hers.  Although I was a widower, I would not come between her and her husband.  In fact, I told her that if she ever suggested leaving her husband for me, I would have none of it.  We stopped communicating.  Then I met Nancy on the Internet.  We connected and two months later I flew to Idaho to meet her.  One week later, we married. We flew back to New York.  Things did not go well.  Again, I will spare the readers of this memoir the details.  One week before our first anniversary, she left me.  That was one year ago, November 15, 2005.  I had to wait one year to file for divorce under New York state law.  I am currently going through a divorce.  This may be more than some want to know, but if I'm to write my memoirs, I would like it all included.

I am presently a member of the Mental Health Division, New York City Medical Reserve Corps (NYCMRC). I was sent to Louisiana to aid in the rescue efforts for Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. More recently, we ran a five-borough recruitment effort to get more volunteers. Just a few weeks ago on November 18, we had a very successful five-borough flu vaccine program.  Among my hobbies are photography and painting (oils, watercolor, charcoal, etc.). I speak several languages and understand upwards of a dozen more.  I spend a lot of my spare time on the computer.  My cyber-friends call me DocG.

I like to invent things.  I developed a fingerprint recognition system to be used as a keyless entry for car ignition systems and/or homes. I also developed an implant device to be attached to the optic nerve to give sight to the blind, and another device called "Quick-rack" which will enable one man to emplace a 4 X 8 sheet-rock, which currently requires two or three men to do.  I am also an avid digital photographer.


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Final Reflections

The effective change in me as a result of Korea was that I learned to look at the serious side of life.  That is, it was time to put away the toys of childhood. I don't know if others saw a change in me. If they did, nothing was ever said.

While there really is no "just" war, if you're in the military you go wherever you're ordered to go. President Truman fired General MacArthur, not for crossing the 38th parallel, but for wanting to bomb China. Mistakes? In my opinion Truman was wrong. While it was a sanctioned United Nations "police action," it was, in fact, an undeclared US war against the communist North Korean regime. I don't believe Truman and his advisors thought this through very well. I felt that then, and I believe it more strongly now.  The label "police action" was a poor choice, in my opinion.  As a result of that label, to most people the "Forgotten War" in Korea was not a war.  It took our own government 50 years to finally honor the fallen of the Korean War with a monument in Arlington National Cemetery.

I have never been back to Korea, nor do I have a desire to see it again. It is just another chapter in my life.  The good to come out of the Korean War--or any other war, is that it is a wake-up call to oppressed people that freedom is not free and they--no, WE--must all stand up for our right to be free. Asking if we should still have troops in Korea or anywhere in the world is like asking if we should have police departments in our cities. Until mankind learns to accept the "new commandment" (Love one another as I have loved you) "policing" is a necessary evil.

Students that may someday consider writing a term paper based on this interview would do well to keep in mind that all wars are unjust regardless of the "naming" of that war.  Although South Korea in particular was a nation of 85% uneducated people about to be further subjugated by "Big Brother" to the north under the guise of unification of the two Koreas. Although Korea was a poor nation, it was rich compared to those who lived in North Korea.

I have only just began to tell my children, grandchildren, and even my great grandchildren about my experiences in Korea. I have never really spoken about the extreme horror of close combat or seeing my friends' bodies blown apart. I just pray that those in my family will never have to experience it in their lives.  I saw plenty of tears shed in Korea.  Some were for the life of a buddy who was killed or severely wounded.  Others were tears after the heat of battle when you realized that the enemy lay dead before you and you were still alive.  Tears after seeing a USO show and wishing you were home.  Tears because you had an argument with a buddy and told him to drop dead, only to find out later that he was killed in action.  Tears because, after thousands of years, we still haven't learned to live as brothers in this world.

My strongest memories of Korea are of the learning experience of seeing a new culture, a totally different way of life, the beautiful mountainous country, and the many streams and rivers which were shallow enough to wade across most of the time. I remember the sunsets and sunrises that I had never seen before since I was from New York City. I remember looking up at the star-studded sky, seeing the Milky Way for the first time, and wondering if God was watching all of this carnage and would he do something about it. Here I am 56 years later and it's still going on.

In all, I was in five major battles in the Korean War.  I received four battle stars representing the number of major battles I was in. When I received the fifth commendation, the four battle stars were replaced by a single silver battle star.  I wear them on my Korean campaign ribbon. In addition, I have two Purple Hearts, the United Nations Service Medal, a Bronze Star Medal, Korean Service Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, and the Good Conduct Medal.  My medals mean a lot to me.  They signify that I did my duty as an American.  Even at my age of 78 on this date, December 4, 2006, I would gladly go to war to defend this great country founded by our forbearers in the name of God Almighty. God Bless America.  Long may our Glorious Flag fly over this blessed nation.

At times while dredging up the past to write this memoir, I found myself emotionally drained and crying.  My grandson walked in once, saw me crying, and thought that something terrible had just happened.  I told him I was reliving the past and not to worry.  I never realized how emotionally draining writing this memoir would be or that I would be able to recall so much of what was buried deep in my subconscious mind. While writing it, I noticed that I was dreaming more about Korea--all in a good way.  No fear or anxiety. It was kind of like watching a movie or television show unfolding. Amazing how the mind works.


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Addenda

Col. George Peploe was 38th Regimental Commander.  For his heroic actions, he rode atop the lead tank, ala Gen. George Patton, into enemy fire to help free up part of the 23rd Regiment in a hot fire fight with the enemy.  Of the approximately 1,500 Americans, 600 walked out and 5,000 enemy lay dead.  He was promoted to General.  Col. John Coughlin was given command of the 38th Regiment.  He, too, would sometimes accompany us on reconnaissance patrols.  Maj. J.R. Rawlins (Gunny) USMC said to Colonel Kelleher that he would be proud to have those men serving with him.  I never heard of a high-ranking officer leading a mission like that.  I would gladly follow either of them into battle.  As radioman and shotgun rider (body guard) to Colonel Coughlin, I was privy to a lot of information.  My buddies would seek me out to get the 'latest info'.  Names like Pork Chop Hill, Heartbreak Ridge, Hill 209, MIG Alley, and, of course, the disastrous Gauntlet became rallying cries for all the United Nations Forces.

 

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