John Tobia was born in Manhattan, New York, on February 20, 1931. He graduated from the High School of Commerce in 1949 located in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in Manhattan. He does not recall ever learning about Korea in school. He was drafted in 1951 and attended boot camp at Camp Chaffee in Arkansas. He received notice of his assignment in the Far East Command and in 1952 arrived in Yokohama, Japan. After being given his supplies in Yokohama, he took a boat that landed in Incheon, South Korea. He operated 105mm howitzer cannons as part of the 3rd Infantry Division all over the Korean Peninsula. He was discharged in the spring of 1953 and returned home.
What was war like? What did Korea look like?
John Tobia talks about being dropped off by a truck to meet his company line. He recalls seeing two helicopters swooping down, apparently transporting the dead and the wounded. Seeing that was his introduction to his company and to the war. He shares how it was a real eye-opener. He contrasts the Seoul he witnessed during and after the war. He also describes a Korean "honeypot".
Leaving Korea and Remembering a Reemerging Seoul
John Tobia recalls being given his discharge papers and being sent home in 1953. He talks about the weapons he collected from the Russian and Chinese soldiers. His commanding officer told him he could not take any weapons for souvenirs; otherwise, he would end up in prison for some time. He also recalls how the South Koreans quickly began rebuilding Seoul as he was leaving.
Memories of Korean Friends from the War
John Tobia gets very emotional regarding a memory he had of a young boy his company encountered while clearing buildings. He shares that the boy lived with his company for about a month. He also recalls a young Korean interpreter that worked with his company who became as close to him as a brother would be. He recalls giving cigarettes to the interpreter so he could trade them for food for his family.
Experiences in Battle
John Tobia discusses his recollections of being in battle. He recalls most of the fighting he witnessed occurred at night, and the next day, he and others would often go to the front lines and see how many troops were killed. He recalls how severely cold the winters were. His company used heaters and stoves to stay warm and often saw rats in their bunker also wanting to warm up. He also mentions how important it was to keep toilet paper in one's helmet.
War Experiences and Its Side Effects
John Tobia shares just how difficult war was and how he was not sure he would make it out alive. He recalls troops from Puerto Rico and Canada, as well as others who fought hard. He talks about suffering from battlefield fatigue, similar to PTSD, and recognized that he was not well mentally. He remembers being offered a promotion by his commanding officer but declined it so he could go home.