Category Archives: Korean War

Interviews with Korean War vets

Korean War Interview – Charlie Israel

I saw in the paper today that Korean War vet Charlie Israel passed away in Hamilton at age 80. I interviewed Charlie for the Missoulian newspaper back in 1997, and thought I would post that old interview in his honor.

Charlie Israel is a jovial man who credits his military experience in Korea as a life-changing event. “I think the service is the best thing to happen to any young man.” Israel was living in Los Angeles and studying photography at a trade school when he was drafted. He was eighteen-and-a-half at the time. “I was very naïve, never been away from home.”

After infantry school he was trained as a cook, and shortly thereafter found himself packed into a troop ship destined for Korea, along with hundreds of other seasick soldiers. He described the journey across the Pacific as a nightmare that seemed to last much longer than the actual twelve days.

Upon embarking at Sasebo, Japan, he caught a different ship bound for Korea. It was then that Israel realized what was in store for him. He laughs, recalling his feelings at the time. “Being a devout coward, I got the shock of my life when they gave me an M-1 rifle to be cleaned. I realized I should have been a better marksman, but it was too late.”

As they neared the front line, Israel got another shock when he saw the artillery shells bursting ahead. “It looked like the Fourth of July with all the things in the sky. I knew I was in deep trouble and wanted to go home.”

Israel worked as a cook for two days before the Army decided that he could better serve his country in the Signal Corps. After a few unhappy weeks digging post holes and climbing telephone poles, Israel managed to arrange a transfer to the I Corps photo unit.

He found himself part of a thirteen-man unit responsible for taking all photographs within a 30-mile radius of I Corps headquarters at Uijongbu, an area that covered the demilitarized zone (DMZ). “We did everything from criminal investigations to public relations and documentaries.” The work varied from photographing prisoners in the stockades to photos of mechanical failure on helicopters and aircraft.

The photographers worked out of a trailer converted to a photo processing lab. “The front of the trailer had motion picture equipment. You could do color, stills, the whole bit.” They also had a darkroom tent, and later a Quonset hut.

Israel covered the building of Freedom Village at Panmunjom and the prisoner of war exchange in 1953, and some of his photos were published in the Army newspaper Stars and Stripes. He also took many photos of the Korean people, including weddings and funeral processions. One of his favorite subjects was the Korean children. Many of his photos show groups of ragged street urchins. “We called them slickee boys, slickee kids, they would try to cut your camera strap, steal your wallet or your watch. There were a tremendous amount of kids on their own, orphaned by the war.”

Perhaps the best duty for an I Corps photographer was when high-ranking generals came to tour the front line. Israel was once attached to four-star general Maxwell Taylor (“quite a gentleman”) for a week to ten days. “You ate very well, and you lived excellently when you were with the general.”

Nevertheless, most of the time Private Israel lived in a tent and shared the hardships of life in a war zone. “I can still to this day remember the smell of death,” he recalls.

“Korea was a great adventure for a young man. It was very enlightening. If you don’t take it as an adventure, and decide to fight the system, you’re in deep trouble.”

Israel has doubts that the U.S. should have intervened in Korea, explaining, “it wasn’t our place to save the world,” but he has no such doubts about the need for the Montana Korean War Memorial. “I hope we finally get the recognition. A lot of guys died over there. We were forgotten.”

Israel continued to serve as an Army photographer for a few months after he left Korea, and today owns the Image Maker, a thriving custom photo lab in Hamilton. His photographs of Korea were on display Friday, June 13, 1997 at the dance honoring Montana’s Korean War veterans held at Minuteman Aviation, Missoula County Airport.

Korean War Interview – Dennis Tate

Korean War Interview – Fred Raunig

Korean War Interview – Ken Brown

Korean War Timeline


Korean War Interview: Ken Brown

Originally published in the Missoulian 1997. ©2011 by Gary Glynn

Soon after the Korean War broke out in late June, 1950, Ken Brown of Hamilton found himself aboard a ship carrying the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division to Korea. Immediately after landing in July, Brown and his fellow infantrymen were thrown into combat in an effort to halt the North Korean advance that threatened to capture the entire peninsula.

As American and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces retreated into the Pusan Perimeter, Brown and his squad of eight men found themselves responsible for holding an impossible 500-yard line along the Naktong River. “If they had come across the river, they would have rolled right through us.”

He was in constant combat, “from the time I arrived until I came back.” The situation was desperate, and conditions for the soldiers were terrible. They lived in foxholes and ate cold food out of cans most of the time.

“When we were in the Naktong River perimeter, we had a company mess and we had warm chow once a day. We had a jeep that kept us posted with ammo, but you’d go three or four weeks without changing fatigues, and you’d get pretty grungy. You’d try and scrounge some socks, but we didn’t have too much else.”

As the fortunes of war shifted, the 1st Cavalry moved north, entering the South Korean capital of Seoul, then crossing the 38th Parallel. By Oct. 12, 1950 they were well on their way to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, when Brown was wounded. “I was a squad leader at the time, a PFC doing a sergeant’s work.”

Thick fog obscured the terrain as the soldiers moved downhill. “We moved down through the valley. I crossed a road and went down into a defile. Then I heard one of our squad leaders say that our tanks were coming down the road, so that we should get away from the main road itself. By so doing I exposed myself to sniper fire.”

“I was shot through the right forearm and lost most of my right elbow. The medic that attended me, apparently they shot at him and hit the canteen on his belt. The water was running down his leg, and he thought he’d been wounded too.”

“The first aid man cut my sleeve off, and gave me a shot of novocaine, then put a bandage on. Then an ambulance came up, and we went back to a MASH unit.”

Several days later, Brown was evacuated to the United States. “We probably had one hundred litter patients on the plane, they were stacked about five high on either side of the aisle. Some guys were getting transfusions, and others were getting shots.”

Brown spent months in the hospital and had surgery twice to repair his elbow. “They put new parts in my elbow, like the bionic man.” Still, his old wound gives him trouble. “I can’t really control the strength of my hand. I shake hands with somebody and they wince.”

“It’s strange, when you’re young and strong like that, you’re bullheaded, you think nothing can hurt you. When you find out the reality it can change your personality. You find out you are afraid. You try to overcome it.”

As one of the first wounded veterans to return from Korea, Brown said he was treated like a returning hero. “I came back before the peace talks or before the armistice was negotiated in ’53. People knew you, and they treated you with respect.”

He eventually went to work for the Treasury Department, then became an FBI agent and private investigator, but his memories of the war remain close to the surface. “They’re almost etched in your mind. You don’t forget. Sometimes things will happen during the day, that will remind you of some of your experiences.”

Like every veteran interviewed for this series, Brown feels a debt of gratitude towards Charlie Crookshanks and the other members of the Montana Korean War Memorial Committee, and is looking forward to the Memorial dedication on Saturday.

“Well I can’t wait. It’s overdue, but I really appreciate what people and corporations have done.”

Korean War Interview – Fred Raunig

Korean War Interview – Charlie Israel

Korean War Interview – Dennis Tate

Korean War Timeline


Korean War Interviews: Dennis Tate

by Gary Glynn ©2013. Originally published in the Missoulian 1997

Poring over his meticulous collection of snapshots of the Korean War, Missoula resident Dennis Tate recalls his military service with mixed emotions. “It was quite an experience, but I don’t think I would want to go through it again.”

Tate is one of a group of local men who have been working for more than a year to build the Montana Korean War Memorial in Missoula, which will be dedicated June 14th.

“My dad was in the first war, and was wounded very severely, and then I had two brothers in World War II, and it was kind of assumed in my family that if you were called, you went, and you did what you were told to do.”

Drafted at age 19, Tate arrived in Korea in April 1952, and traveled by train and truck across much of the devastated country before he arrived at his assigned unit.

By the spring of 1952, both the United Nations troops and their North Korean and Chinese adversaries were weary of combat, and the war had settled down to a bloody stalemate along a static front line. “They were still shooting at each other, but rather spasmodically, and not at us. Fortunately.”

Along with one other soldier, Tate was assigned to a radio van loaded with top-secret communications gear. The van came equipped with thermite grenades to destroy the equipment and documents. “It was set up so that if you knew you were going to be overrun, you could just push the button and it would burn everything up.” The two men worked 12-hour shifts relaying messages from the front lines to artillery units and headquarters in the rear.

“We were never right up on the front lines, but I saw them bring in some people by helicopter, soldiers that had been wounded, and some that had been killed. We did have some shells fired at us a time or two, but just a few rounds. This was up by the Punchbowl area, which is on the eastern side of Korea.”

“When we first went there we were living in bunkers, which were really rotten.” Eventually the men moved into small tents equipped with pot-bellied stoves. Sometimes the temperatures dropped so low that coal-oil froze, and the soldiers were forced to use gasoline in their stoves, an extremely hazardous way to keep warm.

Tate compares the climate and terrain of Korea with that of Montana, very cold in the winter, and hot in the summer. The hillsides were steep, and the mountain roads treacherous. “Those roads were horribly slick. A lot of the people who didn’t know how to drive in that kind of terrain had a problem.”

“When I got there, we didn’t have real warm clothing, and I wrote my mother to send my elk-hunting underwear, and boots, and a feather pillow.”

“One thing that really amazed me over there was that the kids were still going to school in their little uniforms. They were trotting along right in our area. Right in the middle of a war zone.”

After a year of hardships in Korea, Tate rotated home just a few months before a cease-fire was finally agreed upon. Forty-one years after he left, he returned to South Korea in 1994 to find the devastation he had known had all been repaired.

“You wouldn’t know it was the same country.”

He marvels at the welcome the South Koreans extend to returning veterans. “They treated us like we were royalty. It was unbelievable. They allow you to go back once like that. They [the South Korean government] pick up the tab once you hit Korea, and boy, you are treated first class.” Tate and his wife traveled to Seoul, Pusan, and to the truce village of Panmunjom, where they came face-to-face with two North Korean soldiers peering curiously through a window.

Two summers ago, Dennis Tate attended the dedication of the U.S. Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., and just last week he was present when the black granite panels of the Montana Korean War Memorial were installed in Rose Park.

Reflecting on the 138 Montana men killed in Korea, Tate shook his head quietly, “some of those guys that were over there when South Korea was invaded, they had it real tough.”

Korean War Interview – Fred Raunig

Korean War Interview – Charlie Israel

Korean War Interview – Ken Brown

Korean War Timeline