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  • Joseph O'Shea Interview

    Interviewer: Steven Kinney

    Joseph Oshea is a Korean War veteran who was stationed as a forward observer (FO) in Japan to help those who were coming back from the fighting in Korea to adjust to society or prepare to go back into the fight.

    Joseph: In the Korean conflict I didn't go to Korea, but I went to Japan. And I was stationed up in Alquido And what we had was really a moral problem, the first Cavalry division was pulled out of Korea because they were combat ineffective, they lost so many men. They brought them back to Japan and they stayed there for six months and then they'd go back, they hoped they would get discharged. As far as the Korean situation went, I was just sort of lucky in a way because I was in the embarkation point which is in Seattle, Washington, I was waiting there to go to Korea . . . so an officer came out and said they wanted to see me in the back room. So I went back there and they said you got a primary MOS which means your main function was as an FO or Forward Observer, now I also had not very good vision so they said that if you lose your eye glasses you've got problems, so . . . we're going to recommend non combat duty. So instead of going over there I went to Japan to Alquido and so that's really were I was, and as I say we had a lot of moral problems because the ones that were coming back were really in the first attack and they were pulled out because they were combat ineffective because they lost so many men.

    Q: So how did you become involved in the army?

    Joseph: I was in the ROTC program at BC, Boston College.

    Q: So, you wanted to go into the army?

    Joseph: No, not really . . . see I went to BC and when I went to BC, this was in 1947 and at that time there was nothing going on and I went into the Officers Training Program the ROTC, and the main reason was because you could get thirty dollars a month and I didn't have to go into the active duty because at the time I was stationed we were just in the quiet stages . . . .

    Q: Were you trained at all for what you were supposed to do?

    Joseph: Well, as I say I was in the ROTC at BC whose main function was the field artillery. Now I don't know if you are familiar with the field artillery but they have guns that are placed back and as a FO which means you are supposed to locate and see the enemy and tell them how to fire the howitzers which are in the back, so that's what I would do . . . I didn't do it but that's what I was trained to do. So I was also stationed in Yipoo which is a chemical warfare school and that was like two or three weeks and got trained in the different types of chemical warfare.

    Q: Did you select your training, like you wanted to become involved in the field artillery?

    Joseph: No, I mean I selected in the way that I went in but out of a class of about I think 1500, my class at BC there was only maybe 100 in the ROTC program. There was nothing in sight, no war or nothing, but I was doing it mainly for the monetary value, you know that was the main reason. Now the artillery are guns, they're howitzers, and they have 105's and 155's and they're the ones that you give them instructions, you say the enemy is about 2,000 yards away or something, and you give them instructions as to how you fire them. You might say, you give them a distance and tell them say, right 5-0 yards. At the end you say, fire for effect, and they fire the rounds and it's not a very safe job because your right up there in the middle of it, but as I say I wasn't in active duty so . . . .

    Q: How much contact did you get with the Japanese people while you were in Japan?

    Joseph: Well I was there for say about a year, so that's what we had, I had gone to Tokyo and these different places. For me it was an interesting experience because I wasn't involved in any combat.

    Q: What was your opinion of the Japanese people?

    Joseph: Well my opinion of them was pretty interesting because you know it was a pretty bad war we had with Japan. One example was when I happened to go to a religious retreat and it was right near where we were assigned. I was in a room and I had what they called a 'boyson' which was somebody who took care of you, and on the bureau of the room were all these pictures of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So I said to the fellow, what is this, "Well I lost my mother and my father and my sister in the bombing of Nagasaki," and all I could say to him was well I'm sorry. They were, I think considering what they had gone through, they were nice people and they you know helped you out when ever they could. Like I had one interesting experience, and I went on leave into one the big towns. I was in there and I ran out of money, and the Japanese money was yen. It was time to go back to the base and all I had was a ticket to the rail road station to get me back, so the cab driver told me, "get in, and lie down," so he took me to the rail road station and said, "good luck," which I thought was very nice. He didn't charge me or anything.

    Q: Was there any lasting stereotypes or hostilities from the conflict?

    Joseph: In Japan I didn't see anything, I mean there might have been inner feelings but I didn't notice any.

    Q: What was your contact with home like?

    Joseph: Well I lived in New Hampshire at the time and my father was not with us, it was just my mother. I didn't have too much contact with them just maybe through the mail.

    Q: What do you remember best about the time you spent in Japan.

    Joseph: Well I remember the country, it was very beautiful country. It was from like here to New York, I would probably be over there every weekend. I mean it's really a very nice country, and as I say, considering the nature of the war we had with them, I though they were very friendly.

    Q: What was the general opinion there about the Korean War, amongst you friends?

    Joseph: Well there was a mixed opinion about the war. A lot of the fellows who were there really didn't want to be there: they wanted to be home. When we were at school we had no idea the Korean War was on, and when that thing just happened to break open, that's when I had to go to Port Sill Oklahoma for basic training, which is the artillery school. And I went there and after I finished there I went to Camp Drum in New York, and I went up there and my mother wasn't well so I got on emergency leave to visit her. I ran into a Colonel that I told him, I'm up here and my mother's in New Hampshire and he said "Well we'll see," so fortunately he got me out of Camp Drum, and I went from there and got assigned to For Pedens, which was a lot closer.

    Q: Was there any controversy over President Truman's decision to go to war without a declaration of war from congress?

    Joseph: Well, I don't think there was. Truman he was his own man. I think he was one of the best Presidents we ever had. I think of all the Presidents during the period in my life, he was one of the highest respected.

    Q: What were your feelings about the Cold War?

    Joseph: Well I didn't really think too much of it. People say, "What did you enjoy about your two year service," and well it gave me an opportunity to see other parts of the world that I probably never would have seen. I mean I was lucky in the sense that I didn't really have to go into combat.

    Q: What was your opinion of the Soviets?

    Joseph: Well the people who were in the service a lot of them of course were not happy they wished they had been home.

    Q: Was there a big fear of Communism at the time?

    Joseph: Well no, looking back . . . probably that's one of the reasons why we don't want the Chinese to get nuclear things you know . . . .

    Q: Did you see the Korean War as an effort to stop the spread of Communism?

    Joseph: I didn't see it that way, but maybe some others did but . . . what had happened too was there were a lot of GI's who were going to school and they had been in the reserves or something like that and low and behold they get called back into it of which they were not too happy about.

    Q: If you had one message which you could pass onto to someone who might being going into a war, like the Iraq War, what would you tell them?

    Joseph: Well, I don't particularly think we should be in that situation anyway, there's a lot of boys that are over there, and that's a situation we never should have gotten into.

    Q: What has your experience taught you about war?

    Joseph: It's no good and that's for sure. And basically, people are the same no matter where you go. And I think the dropping of the atomic bomb was a really devastating thing, but I think that was the only way, he made the decision not to lose more lives. And they're concerned now about this nuclear situation with China. I will always remember what my father said, and he was just a working man, he said "Someday, China will rule the world," maybe because they have so many people, there's a billion people in China, I don't know if that will ever come to pass.

    Q: Do you think there was any tension in the Korean War time especially about another nuclear problem?

    Joseph: I never can recall any of that stuff . . . .

    Q: How do you think your participation in the war affect the way you might have viewed the world?

    Joseph: As I said before I liked Japan as a country. I wouldn't want to live there but it was a fascinating country. I was there at a opportune time, some of the men that came back got themselves in a lot of trouble. . . . We had six murders among the men themselves in a period of two months. . . . It was a situation that was not good.

    Q: Do you think the war changed your view of your own country?

    Joseph: Well yes, I think we live in a great country and freedom and things that we have. I know some people . . . they don't want to go into the service unless they were you know drafted. I said to a few, well, how can you live in a country that's been this good to you and not be willing to serve. Some people will do anything to stay out of the service and I can never see that. I had a very good friend of mine who recently passed away, he had three sisters, he was the sole surviving son of the family and they wanted to try to keep him out of the service and he went over and was on active duty. He came back and got married and had a wife . . . but war, you know war is not good for anybody. Anybody who says they like the war, you know there is something wrong with him. You do what you have to do basically.

    Q: What did your family think about the War in general and about your participation in the War?

    Joseph: Well I see, in my particular case my father had died and my mother wasn't well and I had no brothers or sisters so I didn't have any feedback. But I guess it has been referred to as the forgotten war or something. It's like this situation in Iraq. I think that the situation in Iraq is maybe worse because we never went there. But the Japanese they bombed Pear Harbor so we went to war, but Iraq never did anything, they just got into communism and things like that. If I had a son over there I would be not too happy because they're over there giving their lives for what? A place they never should have been.

    Q: How does the Korean War being the forgotten war make you look back on it?

    Joseph: Well I looked at it as just having to serve out my obligation which is 18 months or so . . . I guess if I was involved . . . all I can remember is what I was involved in, I guess if you had somebody over there who got killed or something then it has a different effect. I think you find that if anybody is in the war . . . they never talk about it and they just don't discus it very often. There was some tough situations . . . I had a friend and he was in a tent and one night, I think it was his roommate, came in and startled him and he happened to have a gun under his pillow and he shot him right through the head. Now that's pretty hard to take. It was his own man and I don't think he was ever the same after. He didn't intend to do it but it happened it was an accident. I guess the moral of the story was if your going some place make sure your going to be safe.

    Q: What was it like when you got home, did you feel different, how were you received?

    Joseph: I was received all right, you see my situation was a little different, I came home on emergency leave and I came home from Japan not from Korea. When I came home I was more interested in getting a job and going to work and the fact that I had been in the service I don't think it made any difference in what I do, you see I'm a salesman by profession.


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