Joseph Wagener was born in Heinerscheid, Luxembourg on the twenty-fourth of August, 1924. His military experience began during World War II when he was forced into the German army. He fought in Poland and Rome until he was able to go on leave. Once back in Luxembourg, he avoided returning to fight for the Germans by hiding on a farm until his country was liberated by the Americans in 1944. Although Joseph Wagener had learned about Asia in geography classes at school, he knew nothing of Korea until hearing of the Korean War on the radio in 1950. At the time, he was studying at the famous French military academy Saint-Cyr. He was one of eighty-five soldiers from Luxembourg that joined a United Nations detachment that integrated into a Belgian battalion.
From a Nation of Poor Farmers to Beautiful Reconstruction
Joseph Wagener left Korea 4th September 1951. In the six decades following the war, he returned to Korea many times. His most recent trip was in 2016. With each return visit, he watched Korea transform from a nation of poor farmers to a beautiful country filled with new construction and economic development. Joseph Wagener fondly remembers the South Koreans who fought with the Belgian battalion.
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Destroyed Russian Tanks Littering the Ground
Joseph Wagener describes fighting along the 38th Parallel with the 29th British Brigade, the strongest brigade of the British army. They fought along the Incheon River and patrolled the Naktong Perimeter where the South Koreans and their UN allies had blocked the North Korean advancement. Destroyed Russian tanks littered the ground around the area they patrolled, suggesting the intensity of fighting in the region.
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Holding the Bridgehead; Defending the Belgian Battalion
Joseph Wagener remembers an incident during the Spring Offensive of April 1951 when UN troops tried to locate Chinese forces across the Incheon River. His Luxembourg battalion occupied a bridgehead so the Belgian B Company could cross the river to search for the enemy. Despite reports from nearby villagers that the Chinese had recently retreated with their equipment, the Chinese stopped only a mile away and began firing on the Luxembourg battalion as they held the bridgehead.
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[Beginning of recorded material]
J: My name is, uh, Colonel Wagener, Joseph and uh, I was born in, uh, Heinersthed, H-E-I-N-E-R-S-T-H-E-D.
J: E-D, yeah.
I: So Heinersthed.
J: Heinersthed, yeah.
J: Shed. In, um, on the 28th of
I: So how old are you now?
J: I’m 86, uh, 95.
J: Five. Ninety-five, yes.
I: You don’t look like 95 year old.
J: Oh, thank you.
I: What is the secret?
J: Oh, well, So many people ask me about that and I tell them that I, um,
I go on living, uh, like I did it before. I have never changed my, uh, uh, my physical recreation. I go out every day, have a drink, sleep well. And then I have a very nice girlfriend. She comes with me on Sunday, uh, [before] all with me.
I: So drink and girlfriend are the secret.
J: That’s the secret. She is my, uh, my beauty.
I: So tell me about your family when you were growing up, uh, your parents, your father and mother and your siblings, brother and sister when you were growing up.
J: Well, um, well I, I was born in Heinersthed, and my parents, they had an [old town] restaurant,
[old town] restaurant in that town, in Heinersthed and, uh, I had three brothers. The other brother, he was two years older than myself. He was from 1922. And then my brother Lenny, he was my twin brother.
J: Twin brother, yes. He was my twin brother, and he became the cook, and he took over
the restaurant after my parents, they grew up over the, you know. So my twin brother ,he took up the whole commercial side and did a very good job. But he died very early at the age of 58.
I: Oh, I’m sorry.
J: Yeah. That is really young, uh. He was, um, very good cook, very, very good cook
and, uh, he had a lot of success in his business because he died very early, he died too early.
I: So do you, did you take charge of it?
J: I beg your pardon?
I: This, uh, when he passed away, did you take over?
J: No. I did, I, I was in the military all my life.
I: Okay. I, I came to the, uh, to the Army, uh, shortly after the War. And then I stayed, uh, until I was retired
in, uh , ’79, 1979.
I: When did you join the military?
J: I became a, admitted to the in, um, 1944, uh. It must, uh, I must explain that we’d only fight by Germany when a gentleman’s [INAUDIBLE] four years and, and as, uh, we were enacted through the German allies.
So our generation was taken to the German ranks. I had to serve in the German Army
I: During the World War II?
J: World War II, yes. I had to serve in the German Army, ,and I was, uh, employed in, uh, [Blombak], in [Blombak] and, uh, I came on leave in, um, about, uh, August, August,
uh, ’43, August ’43. And then I went into hiding in, in, in a farm during 13 months, and I waited up to liberation of the Americans. I was a, to be liberated by the Americans in September of ’44.
I: No, ’45.
J: No, it was ’44.
J: Forty-four, um, ’44. And then I left the, these people to, uh, finish my study because I had been taken out of school during the War and up to a certain class. And I could not finish my study up to the, uh, up pre examination.
I: So tell me about the school system in Luxembourg at the time that you were growing up.
Was it like a regular kindergarten to high school system?
J: Uh, well it was, uh, I have never been in a kindergarten. I went to the primary school in Heinersthed at the, at the age of seven.
I: Um hm.
J: And then I stayed there, uh, up to 12, 13 years, and then I went to the [Lysee, classical Lysee in Echternach.
I: What is that?
I: What is, uh, classical, what?
FEMALE: It was high school
I: High school.
J: Yeah. That’s, um, that’s what we call college.
I: I see. And this is important question. When you were in high school, okay, did you learn anything about history of Asia?
J: Of Asia. Well, um, yeah. We went, uh,
we had been, uh, educated in, uh, Geography about, uh, so many other countries. I mean, by now they know exactly if we touched, uh, Korea or, but we knew, uh, where Japan, China and the, all these big countries because they had many times war together. And that was also information we had
about this country. And, uh, well, other, otherwise we have, most of the time, we knew all about the European countries.
I: So did you learn anything about Korea at the time?
I: Did you know where Korea was in the world map?
J: No, no. I didn’t know that.
I: Had you ever thought that you’d come to Korea and fight for that country?
J: No, never. I have never thought about Korea.
I, I didn’t know where it was. I, I had only, um, uh, Korea when I was, only Asia it was when I was at the last, uh, school for the military education in France, uh, Saint-Cyr in the France Military school. And uh, that was in 1950. I was, uh, uh, starting in 1950 at the French Military Academy
in Saint-Cyr, uh, Cyr
I: Um hm.
J: And then, um, one morning I was at breakfast, and suddenly I heard a news through the radio coming up, and I knew North Korea, uh, attacked South Korea. [INAUDIBLE] where is North Korea? Where is North Korea? I didn’t know anything about, we were thinking and we were
talking about that, uh, very seriously [INAUDIBLE] oh yes. Korea had been occupied by the, uh, by the Japanese after a certain war, huh? They were at the, uh, we [INAUDIBLE] that. They had been annexed through the Japanese [ INAUDIBLE]. That was shortly one of these wars,
I know exactly when they have been, uh, annexed to Japan. But when we, we came over, um, the War was over. And, uh, your country had already been, uh, retaken, their um, um, their own independence. And when we came in, over, there was, you were a country of your, of your own
by, uh, Syngman Rhee was your first President then. And then, um, well then, the North Koreans attacked South Korea and then, uh,, the War was in, and so many nations had been invited by, uh, the, uh, Secretary of, uh, the United Nations. And so many people
in Luxembourg also. And so they, um, made, uh, a call to the young people, especially to the military they made a call to, uh, join, uh, uh, the, uh, the United Nations Army. And so the government, they created the attachment of 50 people and, and annexed, I mean, uh, integrated in a [INAUDIBLE] battalion.
J: And so
I: So why did you, how did you become the Luxembourg Army to join the Korean War?
I: Did you volunteer or
J: Yes, volunteered.
I: Why? Why did you volunteer?
J: Well, I was
I: You said that you didn’t know anything about Korea.
J: Yeah. I, after that, I had, done already so much that the people of North Korea, when they fought they all had to
move out of their, uh, country because, and then I had, I was very touched, ,uh, to, to see that this nation was, uh, this, uh, South Koreans, they were attacked by the North Koreans. So I don’t know so much about the political, uh, events in this area, uh. But, uh, I had
pity to the South Korean population and I said some day, uh, we send people in, and I will be, I will volunteer. Yeah.
I: Wow. That’s nice. Um hm. So you were already veteran, right, because you fought during the World War II. So did you have to have another military training to, to be sent to Korea?
J: Another military
I: Training, basic military training. Did you have to
go through that?
J: Yes. When we were called up on the second October, um, 1950
J: I had to join the Luxembourg unit, uh, and, uh, we, we left Luxembourg on the second October, 1950 after in a small ceremony presided by the British [INAUDIBLE] Hospital to get young [INAUDIBLE] at that time
[INAUDIBLE] She was the Head of Luxembourg, of our State. And then we went integrated immediately in Belgium battalion.
I: I see.
J: We were put to, to Belgium, to [BUFFALO] and we joined the Belgium battalion, and we, uh, made all the training what they have done in the battalion which really are training.
And then we were taken on this Belgium boat, the, uh, Kamina
I: Kamina? Could you spell it, Kamina?
J: Kamina. That’s, uh, K-A-M-, mina, I-N-A, Kamina.
J: Yeah. We went to the, were taken to the German gunnery. After we left on, uh,
December 15 of December after we had had this, uh, very heavy, very hard training. And we arrived in Korea on the 31st of January.
J: Thirty-first of January, yeah. And then we were
I: Where, where did you arrive, in Pusan?
J: Uh, yes. We were, uh, in Pusan there was a United Nations Reception Center what, close to Pusan.
And all the people who came in, they were taken to this Reception Center, and they were integrated, uh, I mean initiated by, um, um, by these, uh, Korean Tactics and, uh, how they fought, how, how we should behave and so on. And then we made a very hard training up to, uh, to, uh, the point where we joined Waegwan. That was a
I: Waegwan, waegwan.
J: That was after the landing of, uh, MacArthur. So many units of North Korea who had, um, whose actually to come down up to, to, South River.
I: Um hm. Sir, um, did you go through Japan before you come to Korea?
J: Well, Sasebo.
J: Um hm.
I: Okay. And let me ask this question.
I: You said you didn’t know anything about Korea during the school year, and you never heard about it, and when you arrived in Pusan, what was the image of Korea for the first time in your life? Be honest. What was your thinking about Korea?
J: Well, thinking about Korea, that was, uh, uh, we, we, as we never,
we never knew, uh, what kind of, uh, population it was. We didn’t know if they had any say, if they were only rice farmers or were they, we, we didn’t know anything all that. And when we came in, we saw, uh, we, we learned, uh, what kind of population we are going to help.
I: How did the people look like at the time? How as the city of Pusan? Was it destroyed, or were there many people? How was it?
J: No, we didn’t, we didn’t come to Pusan.
I: So you were in Japan?
J: No, we didn’t come to any town. We were taken to the, immediately by car
I: Uh huh.
J: To this, uh, Reception Center, and I forgot, we, we didn’t go any, any way, any place, uh. We were all the time training, and then
we were, uh, one day, as I told you, we have another mission that was up, uh, organized by the Belgium authorities. And we came to Waegwan to fight the guerillas, to fight all units that had been called up, caught, uh, by, by these, by the landing.
I: Um hm.
J: There were too many Korean units [INAUDIBLE] units, And they were,
We were at, our mission was to go slow in the line of communication. The way the roads and, uh, remember what’s happening. And then this unit, they had nothing, they had called up from their bases. They had no food, no ammunition, no need to fly anymore. And so, uh, they invaded, I mean
they attacked the small villages to have food, you know. And, uh, and then we were called up to fight these guerillas.
I: Um hm, um hm.
J: But, uh, when we, we were, uh, located in Waegwan in tents, that was so many, uh, miles away from the, from, uh, from where this happens, uh, where they attacked the
villages. And we were so forward, when we came in, they were gone. They were gone already, huh.
I: Um hm.
J: But we were all the time in front by a body called the North, the South Korean Police, uh, Agency. We had South Korean police going back and through this Agency, we were, um, we knew that something was happening in
the small villages.
I: So when did you leave Korea in then?
J: When I leave?
I: Yeah. When did you leave Korea?
J: I left Korea on the first of, uh, September, first of September
I: Nineteen fifty
J: Nineteen fifty-one.
I: Okay. Have you been back to Korea
J: Oh yeah.
I: How many times? How many times?
J: How many, at least 10 times.
I: Ten times?
J: Oh yes. I was back many times. I saw the whole evolution was taking place. And I saw all that.
I: When was the latest time?
J: The latest time, 2, uh, 16.
I: Two thousand sixteen. So you are only a few Luxembourg soldiers who
knows about the Korea in 1950 and 2016, right?
J: Yeah, um hm.
I: So it’s almost like a 66 years apart.
J: Uh, apart, yes.
I: Tell me, what are the differences? What did you see Korea in 1950, and what did you see in 2016?
J: Well, when we, and we, um, were taken to many places from one place to the other and from one village, we felt
that Korea was a very, very poor nation, very poor farmers and, uh, well they tried to come along in their life and their family, uh, with, uh, doing really hard, hard duty. That’s how I knew the North Koreans, when all, when we all got down and that was, uh, when we had several missions. And that was, uh,
that was the way I judge the Koreans at the beginning.
I: And then?
J: Well, uh, and then, well I, I, I, we, we joined also going in
I: No, no. When, when you go back to Korea in 2016.
J: Oh, when I went
I: How was it?
J: Oh, when I went back 2016, that is, uh, it is not, um, a, to, to say how many
and how good, how fine the South Koreans have come reconstructed their country. Beautiful, beautiful. And every time when I went back, they were all the time a new, um, uh, situation and a new constructions and new, uh, well, the whole picture, it changed every year I was there.
I: Um hm.
J: And I was, uh, [INAUDIBLE] well, that was after the War. We were, uh, invited by the Korean Patriotic, uh, Organization and, uh, we were, um, glad, glad to, to be, uh, in Korea again. We had also many contacts because we had, uh, 150
South Koreans, uh, fighting in the Belgium battalion. They were at the integrated Belgium battalion. They were equipped like Belgium soldier, and they were, came along with us. But, uh, they didn’t like the, our daily action, our daily food. So they had organized, uh, brought us to come along and to follow, uh, the Belgium battalion with, uh, rice, with rice.
And when we came to all the, when we came to the last position of the day, um, well they, they, the started their cooking, yeah.
I: So um, you were invited by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs,
I: It’s MPVA,
I: And this whole thing is supported by the MPVA, too.
J: Um hm.
I: So have you ever thought that Korea become
like this today when you left 1951?
J: No. I didn’t
I: Why? Why did, why you didn’t think that Korea would become like this?
J: When I, so much damage. All South Korea was damaged up to the last, uh, buildings, [INAUDIBLE] stone. And, uh, that’s what I feel that, that, that you are very courageous nation and, uh, that, um, uh, that, that
you do a, a job for very, very, uh, good, good job, very good job to rebuild your country, and, and it took time, yeah, to build such a beautiful country and such a modern company. You have all kinds of industries now. Uh, you have a very important car industry, uh, and you have all items being taken in a household, you know.
You, you, you start everything, everything, and you found it over, in, the whole world, you know. And you are very courageous. I, I feel Korea did a very, very, very good job.
I: We were able to do it because you fought there, for the country you never knew before.
J: Yes. That’s what we heard all the time. We are glad that you, uh, came to liberate, uh, South Korea
because, uh, I, I met all that when, uh, we were fighting most of the time, uh, in the area of, uh, of the, of the 38thParallel. That’s where we were, uh, one day integrated in the 29th British Brigade.
I: Twenty, 29th British?
J: Twenty-ninth British Brigade, um. And with this brigade I said at the beginning we were in the 2nd Division,
no, the 2nd, 3rd Division.
I: Third Division.
J: in the 3rd Division.
I: Um hm.
J: And, uh, from the 3rd Division, with the 3rd Division, we made up, um, the way to the 38th Parallel again, um. We fought from that to the, up the, uh, with, with, with the third, with the 3rd Division. And then, at the, at the Imjin River, the, the, this
Brigade, the 29th Brigade came to our location at the Imjin River also, uh, let’s say parallel to the 38th, uh, Parallel.
I: Um hm.
J: But, uh, we came to this, uh bridge, and then the brigade, they had one battalion more. They were the smallest brigade in the [bullets] around me.
J: They did not tell me that for the year.
I: Um hm.
J: Did you lost the, the, uh, [INAUDIBLE] battalion.
J: So this brigade was, was the strongest brigade in the British Army, ah.
I: At the time, what was your rank?
J: I was a Lieutenant.
I: I’m sorry?
J: A Lieutenant, Lieutenant.
J: Yeah, um hm.
I: So you were officer.
J: I was officer, yes. I was an officer, and I, uh, became First Lieutenant in Korea.
J: I, I had, uh, second people, second star on my shoulder. I had, I started with one star that’s Lieutenant. Then the second star, that was First Lieutenant. And then I came back from Korea as a First Lieutenant.
I: Um hm. And now you’re retired as a Colonel.
J: I am retired, uh, up to the rank of Colonel.
I: So tell me about any specific skirmish during Waegwan. You were there with, uh,
fighting against this, uh, North Korean guerillas, right?
J: Um hm, yeah.
I: Andy episode that you wanna say about it?
J: Uh, we had in, uh, also in the spirit of fighting these uh, guerillas, in Kum, Kumi, we had, uh, an, um, a camp [INAUDIBLE] eight days. And in this Kumi area, we were patrolling over with a, we were patrolling on the night
I: Uh huh.
J: Okay, Naktong, Naktong River.
I: Naktong River, yes.
J: Yeah, Naktong River. That is the, uh, the River where they stopped, they blocked, uh, the, uh, invasion from the North Koreans.
I: Naktong Perimeter.
J: Nak, Naktong Perimeter, yes. And from there, well, the Naktong Perimeter we saw how hard they had tried already before we were in the area.
We saw so many, uh, uh, destroyed tanks, Russian tanks, uh, T35 or 34. And, uh, well we, we, we, we saw, we saw, uh, that they had a small group of the United Nations Army who had been created at the time. They must have had very hard fighting to block them up
in this Naktong area.
I: Um hm. Were there any fights between
J: No. I, we, we never, uh, no.
I: Okay. Then you went, you said that you went to the, near Imjin River
I: Were there any, uh, battle that you remember that you fought?
J: Oh. Well we were, um, um, we, we, we were, uh, uh, engaged in the
Spring of Offensive.
J: The Spring Offensive
I: Nineteen fifty-one.
J: In 1951 in, um, April ’51. But we were engaged like, with the whole battalion, and we were attacked, um, by so many Chinese we had to move out, uh, one moment, that one moment. But, uh, the Belgium battalion was resisting very hard, very long because, uh,
they were, uh, resisting to allow the other units of the Brigade to move out. And we were one of the last, uh, battalions to, to ask all the units to retire, um, yeah. But from there we went, uh, down to, to, Seoul, and we came another, we had another year on our mission on the Hahn, no, no, on the Hahn River I believe,
where the Hahn joins the, the sea. And, um, well, from there we were uh, in, in, in, organized because the Belgium battalion had lost all of their [cars].
J: They had, had so many losses, you know, especially material. I don’t know how many, um, dead we had also a very, uh, big number of dead.
And, and injured some. And, um, well, after this period, we were, uh, located sometimes in, uh, Seoul, in Seoul, uh, University building.
J: There were all the, where I saw all the, uh, the pictures of the classes of these young, uh, Korean students.
And then from there, we came back up on the Imjin River and, uh, we occupied the position of the Gloucester battalion, where the Gloucester battalion, where the Gloucester battalion has been wiped out because at the Battle of Twenty, uh, Spring Offensive, the Battle at the, um, the brigade was attacked very hard. The brigade
I: By the Chinese.
J: Yes. The brigade was attacked
and, uh, the British, um, uh, units, they had to fight very, very hard, uh, to, to resist, uh, for a long time. And, um, then we had one chance to be taken out because our liaison officer, Major [Moore the Million], he went to the, uh, American High Corps. He was the liaison
Officer, and he met the headquarters to, um, uh, to ask if they could do and, uh, how the, uh, support to the Belgium battalion, a very big support to the Belgium battalion to allow the battalion to move out, uh, because we were in close contact with the Chinese, um. But the only thing we had a [level] between uh, us
I: Um hm.
J: and, uh, at that time,
the level was really high and, uh, so they could only [INAUDIBLE] with boats and I, I don’t, I don’t know if they had so many, uh, means to do so. But, um, uh, uh,
I: Were there Canadian soldier with you, too?
J: I beg your pardon?
I: Canadian soldier, Canadian.
J: I didn’t meet Canadian soldiers.
I: They told me that they play
ice hockey during the winter when there was, did you see that?
J: No, no.
J: No, no. No, no. I, I never met the, I met, um, uh, only, uh, British, British people.
I: So how was it working with the British and Belgium soldiers? Was it good?
J: Through contact.
I: Yeah, the relationship.
J: Yes. The relations, they were very good [INAUDIBLE] When we had all our sectors and the other, uh, battalions
the Glousters. [INAUDIBLE] They had all, every unit had these factors to be occupied and to be responsible for this part.
I: Um hm. Were there any very dangerous moment that you might have lost your life?
J: In, in, yes.
I: Tell me about it. Tell me.
J: Yeah. After, uh, we had, uh, we’d taken position on, after the Offensive, Chinese Offensive,
when we had retaken position on the Imjin, huh, um, the, uh, United Nations, they were not well informed about where are the, the Chinese had retired. How far they were after they retired. They didn’t know, uh, and had very few information.
J: And so one day, it was on the first of June, uh, the battalion
made an attack to join, to, uh, find out North, uh called the Imjin River to find out but I don’t know how many miles to find out where the Chinese were.
J: And [INAUDIBLE] that’s where it was ordered, to create an, um a bridge on the other side of the Imjin River and to, um, to hold the
ground until so many Belgian units had crossed the river
I: Um hm.
J: to look after the Chinese. And that was one company, B company. They were, uh, when we, when, when we had caught the Imjin River to occupy these bridges, um, they, the people, the people of the, of the place, they told us the Chinese, they have just left this position, uh,
the Chinese had just left this position with, uh, 200 people.
J: There were 200 people of that spot, and they had taken, when they saw that the Belgians, uh, were crossing with heavy material and, uh, so many units, they moved out. And they went, and the population told us well, too many have left. And they went up about, uh,
one mile, even, not even o ne mile, and, and they stayed there. They, uh,
I: You were able to see them?
J: Yes. They shoot, they shoot, they shot, uh, at our position. When we were organized on this bridge
I: Um hm.
J: we were. at that, by this, um, by the arms, by Army of, uh, rifle fire and matching gun fire, um, at this position, we had to
take care of our, uh, unit. We had dug some holes to be protected, yeah. And, uh, so they attacked and gun, by fire. And then the Belgian company, Belgian company was sent forward to meet them. And when they came to, to, in the vicinity, these people, I don’t know how many there were,
they attacked the Belgian company. And the Belgian company had to pull out. And, uh, we are just in very good position to help this company to, uh, uh, to come back, yah, to come back to their bases to cross the, the Imjin River and to go back, uh, with the battalion at, uh, was located. And, uh, I, um,
the company commander of this unit, B Company, when we came to gather on any place after the War, after the War
J: we had too many occasions to meet. I had, I had the unit. I went to Belgium training camp, and I met one of these company commanders and the commander of Company B, and he said if I
would not have had the Luxembourg, uh, on the first of, of, of June, well the operation, uh, Pile Driver, Operation Pile Driver, my company would have been, uh, uh, wiped out.
J: That’s what he said. That was a very good compliment. It was a very nice compliment I think. And then we had the last troop of all these to be,
to put out. That was a day was, when, when I was the closest, um, uh, to, to this, uh, Chinese students. They were, I saw the Chinese unit very close. And then after that, we moved out.
J: By, um, uh, fire and movement, fire and movement, yah, until we were taken in boats and taken over in the Imjin River, and they, uh, did not come, uh, any farther
J: because the support of the battalion of this unit who had crossed the Imjin River and to support, to take Luxembourg back was so heavy. There were tanks. There were artillery, shooting and, uh, we had the support, I don’t know of, uh, of a whole division to, to, to put, to put Luxembourg back, uh, back again.
That was, uh, a
J: They were, I saw, uh, Chinese soldiers moving up to our position, I would not say it. I saw the whites of their eyes. But, uh, and were, they were very close.
I: So what if I arrange a meeting between you and that Chinese soldier that took, uh, I mean, fight against you 66, 70 years ago, would you
willing to shake hands with him?
I: Why? They were About to kill you.
J: They was, they were, um, um, I say all the time, the, the Chinese showed us. They were our slaves. They had to, to move, uh. And if they would not move, they would be killed, uh, by their leaders. And they had this Communist ideology and, uh,
they had to, yes, uh. I, I should say that the, uh, Chinese soldiers, they had no, no chance
J: to, to move back or to take, to move back one day, yeah.
I: Um hm.
J: No, they, they were, they were, uh, soldiers like myself.
I: Um hm.
J: You know. And, uh, well I would be fine with their location to meet them. But I
shouldn’t, I would not shake hands with them.
I: That’s good to know. What do you think about the trade war between China and the United States right now?
J: Right now, that’s a very big mess.
J: That’s a very big mess. I, I don’t, I don’t know what to think about that.
J: [INAUDIBLE] Chinese, they are also very courageous. They have, uh, a lot of, uh, customers in the world.
I: Um, if I asked you to just pinpoint one thing that most difficult during your service in Korea, was it weather? Was it battle? What was it? What was the most difficult thing for you to, to bear, stand at the time?
J: Ooo, to say where, where I was staying.
I: Yeah. What was the most difficult thing in your life at the time?
J: The most, the most difficult. That’s when the, uh, uh, the attack on the first of June. That was the most difficult, uh. We had too many other, uh, small incidents, uh. Uh, but this was, uh, so, uh, that was so evident I forgot that, that we would care, uh, being, uh, in a position to be killed. Right.
J: To be hit by and, uh, a Chinese, Chinese
bullet or by Chinese, uh, be, because we had two days in Luxembourg group, uh, and they all have been hit by artillery shelling.
J: But nobody has been killed by a bullet.
I: So tell me. How much was the population at the time in Luxembourg, total population in 1950?
J: Population in 1950 was, uh, 400,000.
I: Four hundred thousand.
J: Well, between 400 to 500 thousand.
I: Okay. And how many total soldiers from Luxembourg to the Korean War?
J: Eight, eighty-five.
J: Um hm.
I: How many were killed?
I: Two. How many were wounded?
J: Four, fifteen.
I: And anybody missing in action?
I: So two out of 85.
I: Two out of 85.
J: Um hm.
I: That’s a, I think that’s the highest casualty rates, the death rate.
J: Yeah, it was. Uh, we were blessed with only two deaths.
I: But still that’s a lot because your population was only 500,000 max
J: Yes, yes.
I: And there are only 85 soldiers and two people were killed.
J: Um hm. We, our, our effort to the United States Army was the biggest one, eh, in [INAUDIBLE].
I: Yes. Are you
J: Eight, 85 that was already, uh, uh, whole company, um hm.
I: Whole company.
J: Um hm.
So that’s why it is important to keep this record of your witness of, as a Korean War veteran from Luxembourg. Um, tell me about soft side of your service. Where did you sleep? What did you eat? How much were you paid? Were you able, oh at the time, were you married?
J: No. I was not married.
I: You were single.
J: I was single.
I: Okay. Um, tell me about those. Where did you sleep?
What did you eat? Were you able to take a shower, things like that because remember, children will listen to your interview.
I: They want to know about that soft side. They asked, did you, did you eat hamburger, McDonald’s or Burger King? These kids doesn’t have any idea
J: We had, um, uh, at the, at the beginning when we were located, uh, far away from the, uh,
the better area, well we had some, that was A, B, C rations
I: From American C rations.
J: Yeah. A, B, C rations. And that was, uh, one of the time we had C rations. But on, on several positions where we had, uh, a longer time to stay, we had also, uh, hot, hot cooking like, uh,
A, B, C, I mean, what was it exactly. But it was, um, tea was one package for everybody.
J: And, uh, A, B, was five in one, five in one that means in one package, you had already, um, uh, better food
J: Uh, yeah, better food. You had to, to prepare. There was an,
uh, um, uh, preparation period. Otherwise, you could go, easy it was, uh, wrong material, and A, B, A was, um, [STAMMERS] But, uh, it was, uh, uh, it was a normal meal you could have.
I: Where did you sleep?
J: Oh, we had sleeping bags.
I: Sleeping bags.
J: We had sleeping bags. We had, uh, sleeping bags.
We were sleeping everyday in your sleeping bag.
I: Outside or inside the tent?
J: Oh, uh, sometimes at the beginning we were in a tent. And after that when we were, uh, in the move, in the move, we were one of the bigger units. We were the 2nd Division on the, uh, um, and we were, um, lying on the ground.
I: Even during the winter?
J: Most of the time, we were sleeping on the ground.
In the foxhole.
J: In the foxhole, yeah.
I: Um hm.
J: Um hm.
I: How was it?
J: Well, uh, first of all, you were very precautious because, uh, most of the time you slept out. But, uh, you never, uh, um, had a very deep sleep I know I, I, because I was very precautious to, to, uh, see that not, nothing
was happening in our area. And so I was watching, uh, also the people who were in position to, uh, uh, to, to, to have the, uh, the mission, that nobody could, uh, enter the, uh, the Luxembourg, uh, tanks.
I: Um hm. Did you have a camera? Did you take a picture?
J: I, I had a camera. But I had no camera with me. I had a camera when we came over.
But this was all with our biggest luggage in,, uh, in, in [jetboat]
J: In the [jetboat] in Pusan.
I: Were you able to write letters back to your family?
J: Oh yes. I, I
I: What did you write?
J: Well, I wrote many letters. I, I wrote as I would have, that, that I was safe. I was, most of the time. That was my, um, the biggest
[wrote] that I, uh, I am safe. There is nothing, no danger for the moment, uh.
I: Did you have a girlfriend at the time?
J: A girlfriend.
I: Did you have a girlfriend at the time?
J: In, in
I: When you were in Korea, when, yeah
J: In Luxembourg.
J: Yes, I had a girlfriend.
I: Did you write a letter to her?
J: Oh yes, yes.
I: Do you still have the letter?
J: Uh, I have, um, a very big box with many letters.
Maybe there are also some letters of her. But most of the letters, um, in this box, they are the letters I wrote to my mother, to my family.
I: So you still have those?
J: Yes, I still have them.
I: So would you be willing to share that with the museum so that we can put it on the website?
J: Oh yes. I would, uh, I would, I would not mind because, um, I met in, um
after, uh, no, June the Korean War was. I had a cousin from Chicago I met in Korea.
I: Oh really?
J: I met my cousin from Chicago in Korea. I knew his location, and I made, um, uh, the, the tour, the trip, I knew exactly where he was
I: How? How? How did you know?
J: By, by that, by the, the car,
and the driver of the company commander.
J: From the Jeep, from the Jeep of the company commander. And I had, I came late to this, uh, position because I had to drive from the Imjin River down to Seoul and move up in another area.
J: And, um, uh, and we were, um, [STAMMERS]
I had written to him, to his mother
J: that, that, um, I was located, and then she wrote me Bobby’s in Korea, too. You must try to come together.
J: And then I got to his location, and then I took the commander’s Jeep to go to his position.
I: Did you meet him?
J: I met him, yes, I met him. And there was another time Stars and Stripes was there, and they made a big article Cousins Meet in Korea.
I: Oh. Do you have that article with you?
J: No, that is in the museum.
I: Okay. So we wanna scan that, too, okay?
I: And put that together with this interview will be great. What’s his name?
I: What’s your cousin’s name?
J: Bob, Bob Cramer.
I: Bob Cramer?
I: B-O-B K-R-A-M-E-R.
J: C-R-E-M-E-R, C-R-E-M-E-R. Cremer.
I: C-R-E, K-R-E-M-E-R.
J: My mother was a Kremer.
J: And, um, he was the son, he was, Kremer was the son of my uncle, my uncle from my mother’s side.
I: Yeah. Your mother’s brother.
J: Yeah. My mother’s brother.
I: So how was it? Tell me, when you met, uh, Bob?
J: Bob? Oh. I came out of, uh, I, I, I followed the, uh, the Peninsula, I mean the [INAUDIBLE]
of the, the 3rd Division, uh, operation, [INAUDIBLE] I followed, um, I followed this [INAUDIBLE]
I: Um hm.
J: And then I came to a tent and, uh, I met an American and he said are, are you looking for somebody? Yes, I said.
I am from the, uh, Luxembourg, uh, Belgium unit, unit command, and I have a cousin called Bob Kremer and, uh, he must be in vicinity because he must be part of the, of the, uh, operation section of the Division. Oh. He, he, opened the tent and then he said Bob, step out. Your cousin is waiting outside.
I: It’s like a movie.
J: Step out, Bob step out. Your cousin is waiting outside.
J: Well, then we met, we met and we celebrated. We had lot of, uh, lot of beer
J: Yeah. And then I sleep there during the night, uh. That was the only time that was, uh, in the, uh, Headquarters of the, uh, of 1st Division. He was 24 or 25, 5th Division. And that was in
the, in, in, in the Headquarters. I had very, uh, comfortable, lay, uh, bed with, uh, curtain, no [INAUDIBLE]
I: Special treatment.
J: Special treatment, uh. And then I moved out the other day and turned off of that, I went to the United States, and we met in the United States also.
J: Again. And then I was married. I took my wife over to meet, uh, my cousin
[INAUDIBLE] in, uh, United States.
I: Wonderful story.
I: So do you know here in Luxembourg, do they teach about Korea in high school or middle school? Do they teach?
J: I don’t know.
I: What do you mean you don’t know? You are a citizen of Luxembourg..
J: No, I didn’t, I, I, I, I feel, I feel they don’t, uh, do, they don’t do enough. People of, uh, my, my, my children,
they don’t, they don’t know anything about
I: Did you tell them, your children. Did you
J: Oh yes, I tell, I tell to, to the children, yes, uh huh.
I: About the War?
I: And, they don’t know?
J: No, they don’t know anything.
I: They don’t care?
J: Oh, they, they, they care when I see that I was a member of, uh, that, then they are much, a little bit more interested [INAUDIBLE] they say what, what, what is Korea? We don’t know.
I: So why is it? Why is it,
Why this War has been known as Forgotten War? You, you know 1950 Korea and 2016, right?
J: Um hm, yeah.
I: So you know all this differences.
J: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I: But why it’s been know as Forgotten War?
J: Well, uh, as I told you, most of the people the War was over and, uh, this country was so far away, uh, on the map, and nobody had,
I mean people were interested. They had all of the, they look for a world map to find this small country.
I: Um hm.
J: Yeah. And then, uh, some, some, some people, my friends, my friends, they were all was interested, and t hey were all, uh, very grateful or very nice that I had done this job, um. They appreciated
and appreciated yes, oh you were in Korea. You are, no. They are very, um, they are all, they are very good feeling to me about, uh, the Korean War.
I: Hm. So now that Korea you saw in 1950 become 1th largest economy in the world.
J: Yeah, uh huh, yeah.
I: It’s bigger. It’s, I think it’s bigger than Luxembourg obviously
J: Yes, it’s bigger than Luxembourg.
I: And it’s one of the most substantive, substantive democracy in Asia.
I: What do you think about that?
J: When I was, that’s, um, uh, as I told you earlier, that, uh, the, uh, the intelligence of your people, they were, uh, so educated after the War. I mean, your university I think started, uh, and they formed the most important
and the most intelligent people of the world. And so that was one of the reasons your country was allowed to grow up in a very short time and very nice, uh, and very modern now. And then your industry and too many other things started, and that, uh, made great, uh, I, I mean that, that was part of the hole, you know. And I know, I, I
feel they did a wonderful job, wonderful.
J: I can only shake my hands.
I: So are you proud to be a Korean War veteran?
J: Yes, I’m very proud.
I: Um. What do you think about the whole thing? You didn’t know anything about Korea. Now you’ve been to Korea 10, more than 10 times. You become a Korean War veteran. You see that Korea has transformed tremendously. What do you think about all these things
that are happening in your life?
J: Well, um, well that was very important part of my life I feel. But, uh, well, I would not have been in the military, I don’t know if I was, uh, uh, in this group to join, uh, the United Nations.
I could join, uh, I was a military.
J: And as a military, I had so many things in mind, and I was eager to learn how, how can you stand War? That was my, my, uh, opinion.
J: How can you stand War with, as a commander of a group. And how can you, um, uh, make your way, uh, to, to, uh,
to take care that we have so few has come [INAUDIBLE]
I: What would you say to the citizens in Luxembourg about the War that you fought for? What would you say to the people who doesn’t know much about it?
J: Well, uh, I would, first of all, I, I have to find, uh, the people were interesting.
And, uh, well that is, um, that is only people who know me, and they come to me and they ask me and so, uh, especially my, my family and my friends and my, uh, uh, well, I, and I am so well known in Luxembourg
J: Yes. That only
one thing where I go, uh, they, they, they know, they, they say here comes the Colonel.
I: So now you have to speak up about the War that you fought.
J: Yeah. I can do that. Some people, uh, question me, and they were interested. But none of all the others, they didn’t touch the problem.
I: Right. So that’s why we are doing this. We want to preserve your memory first of all,
and then we want to work with the people like Elizabeth or the President of Korean Association here at Jessy Park or any other people who are interested in making this into curricular resources so that teachers can use it. That’s why she was in [Evans’ conference], and we foundation produced a curriculum book. She has it. If you have it, could you show them around and, so this is my last question.
What would you say if, do you have message to the Korean people for the commemoration of the Korean War next year, 70th anniversary. This is actually ridiculous because it’s been 70 years since they signed the Armistice cease fire.
J: Um hm.
I: I don’t think there is any war in the history of 20th century human society where, that has war lasted more than 70 years after the cease fire.
So what would you be your message to the Korean people?
J: Well, um, it’s almost, it’s almost a good, that’s what we do in Luxembourg also, uh, when we are talking about the 2nd World War, we were occupied five years, um, during the War by the Germans, by the Germans. And you were
occupied before the War started by the Japanese. So I can make you already comparison between our two nations because they have, uh, they have suffered the occupation by following nations. And so they were, they were Koreans. They felt like Koreans. They love their nation. So are we in Luxembourg.
And, uh, that’s why I say, uh, it’s, it’s very good to celebrate. It’s really good to remind, to remind
I: Um hm.
J: because, uh, the young people, well, they need to get awake when they hear that, uh. And they, um, well, um, some people are interested, some of. But maybe some people say what, what are you, what are we celebrating today?
I: Um hm.
J: But when we celebrate some, uh, event of the last War, really we mean it. We celebrate it, uh. And the population, the most, the Luxembourg population, my generation, they know exactly, uh, what is going on.
I: Um hm. Um hm. I, I think that’s very important point that you made it, that Luxembourg was under German occupation.
Korea was under the Japanese occupation. So we share that sentiment and history. And I think that will be a great message for the Korean people. And, any other message that you wanna leave to this interview about any battle episode or anything that you haven’t told me? Anything?
J: No. Oh there was, uh, there are too many details, uh, because the period,
we touched one period, huh. There are, um, there are, um, many, many, many things to say, um, beside what we have talked about. Um, but I should say that, uh, we touched the most important points, yeah.
I: What is the importance of Korean War to you?
J: The importance? Well, that was, uh, uh, for, uh, the, the people who started it. That was a shock for the people who started it. They had, they had to move out.
I: Um hm.
J: But, uh, there, the, the, the only thing I regret when I go down and to come down the demarcation line and I say well, uh, maybe, uh, that, uh, if the military tried
had operated, uh, a little bit more clever, they could have, uh, gone because they got to know that there was a million of Chinese in the Manchurian area.
I: Um hm.
J: A million. A million, where did they come from? And my security agents, what did they do during this time? Nobody knew, uh,
I: Um hm.
J: And, um,
uh, well, when they sent one million together or only 500,00 together, you can’t do any, anything against, against that. And they knew the ground, and they were, uh, not equipped like we were equipped and we had so many things to care and we were, um, and, uh, well, um, no they, um, the, the, the Korean War
for the northern fight was, uh, and, a miss, a very big mistake to them, for them.
I: Um hm.
J: And [INAUDIBLE] how they didn’t succeed. They didn’t know, they didn’t uh, uh, realize what they had, uh, wanted to, uh, be done. And they, they, um, well, it is a pity, as I said, huh, if they had operated how
we thought about that. everything about it for that to [find them because when they got to river was pulled out by Truman] because he was already on the way. He was at the Yalu, huh.
J: He was with one Korean or two Koreans Division already at the [INAUDIBLE] and the Chinese. And um, that was what, what I knew at that time that, um,
uh, the, the, the former, um, Ambassador of Foreign Affairs, the Chinese
I: [June Lye]?
I: [June Lye]?
J: [June Lye, June Lye,] yeah, [June Lye] we say [Shoe on lay]
I: Yeah. Um hm.
J: [June Lye], he said if you come too close, we’ll put our hands on it.
J: And that was in [INAUDIBLE] Um hm.
I: I think that’s a very important message, uh. And I have done a lot of interviews. But we have, we seem to have only three or four maximum from Luxembourg. But that’s a lot because you sent 85 soldiers. But because you shared this historical legacy together, it was very important for Korean people. So on behalf of Korean nation, I want to thank you for your fight, and your fight has never been
forgotten in the minds of Korean people. And it’s a forgotten victory to many other people. That’s why we want to work with the museum to spread this, okay?
J: Um hm.
I: So [INAUDIBLE] thank you so much for your fight, and thank you for your time.
J: Thank you.
I: Thank you, sir.
[End of Recorded Material]