The Library of Congress Veterans History Project Home 
Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Rick Mendoza-Gleason [01/22/2003]

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Today is January 22, 2003. We are at [address redacted] in Washington, D.C. We will be interviewing Ric Mendoza-Gleason, born October 13, 1930, and currently living at [address redacted] in Washington, D.C. I am Katia Bore-Falecker with the American Veterans for Equal Rights. The cameraman is Joel Westbrook. Also at the interview are Lara Ballard and Lee Lampos.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Were you drafted or did you enlist?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Drafted.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Where were you living at the time?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Chicago, Illinois.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Why did you join the force?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Well, I didn't. I was in school. I was in college at Marquette and my grades were, you know, not of the greatest, so Uncle Sam said [making finger gesture for "come here."]

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Why did you pick the service branch you joined?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Actually, it picked me. I went into the Army, and then we... and during that time it was supposed to be 8 weeks of basic training, but it turned out to be 16. At the end of the 16 weeks, they asked us if we wanted to, uh, join the Airborne, and I thought, "Wow, that sounds exciting," so I went and joined the 101st Airborne. That was another 8 weeks of training, of jump school.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Do you recall your first days in service?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Oh, I sure do. They were not too happy, I mean, because it was... the service was so regimented and I was used to, you know, college and being able to, you know, go here, go there, do this, and do that, and then it was so regimented. And then, of course, you're just low man on the totem pole as you first go in. You know, you're just a private E-l, and you go to an E-2 after you finish basic, you know, before you get any rank at all.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Can you explain what are those?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Oh, E-l-- everyone is an E-l who is enlisted, or joins. ER is enlisted and RA is regular army; that means you were drafted. That's what I was, RA. And E-l is the assignment given to everyone the minute they're drafted.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Tell me about your boot camp or training experiences.

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Everything was very, very heavy. We had, you know, exercises every day, we had hikes, we had 10-mile hikes, 20-mile hikes, we had bivouac. Bivouac means you go out in the field and you live out in the field. We had... at that time they did the thing where you go with gas masks, you go through this long hut and it's full of gas, and they give you the gas masks and you go through it. They had a thing called infiltration, which means there's barbed wire and you... you keep low. There's machine gun fire, and you keep low and you keep your behind down to get under the wire, so that you crawl like this with your Ml rifle. You crawl like this and then they... I assumed that they were using live ammunition, but I have a feeling they weren't. But you were still scared. They don't tell you whether they're using it or not, 'cause they say, "Keep down, keep down," you know. So that was infiltration. And then of course we, like I said, we bivouac'd and we had 20-mile hikes, 30-mile hikes.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Where did you do your training?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Uh, at first I did it at Breckenridge, Camp Breckenridge. That's the home of the 101st. And then I went on to, uh, oh God, I'm trying to think of where I went to after that, it was, uh, my mind just went, uh... for jump school. My mind just... Joel Westbrook: Fort Benning?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Benning, thank you, Fort Benning. God! You saved the bacon, yes. Fort Benning, Fort Benning, 8 weeks at Fort Benning.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Do you remember your instructors there?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Yes, hated every one of them. You're supposed to, you're supposed to, you know, because they are the enemy, you know, they make you... it's grueling. I mean, it's inspections, and it's, uh, fall out for this, fall out for that, you know, you have all kinds of KP duty, and latrine duty, and all kinds of things, you know, police the area, that kind of thing. I was glad when my basic training was over. Jump school was a little different. Jump school was, um, it was probably harder, but in some ways it wasn't quite as Mickey Mouse as basic training was.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Which wars did you serve in?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Which-?

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Which wars?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Korean. Just the Korean. I was, I was 14 years old when World War II ended.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Where exactly did you go?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Okay, I was stationed first in Japan and then from Japan I went to Uijonbui and I was stationed in Seoul, and then from Seoul I was stationed in Munsan, no, Sehong-ni, which is off to the north, to the north and to the west, and then I was moved over to Munsan-ni, which was attached to the 1st Marine Division. There were 5 of us in the Army attached to the 1st Marine Division at Munsan-ni.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Do you remember arriving and what was it like?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Oh, yeah, oh, I can never forget it. First of all, I remember the trip over. I forget which ship I was on. The USS General... oh, I'd better not, I'd be guessing, but, um, it was just awful. We went by way of Adak, which is in the Aleutians, the last island in the Aleutians. The sea was rough. People were getting sick. It was horrible. And I didn't! I didn't until the last of the journey, you know, and I was so proud of myself. There was only 5 of us to go into the mess hall. And I was so proud of myself that there were only 5 of us. And one of the guys at the other end of my table got sick in his tray, and the sea was so rough that his tray landed underneath me and then I got sick.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

And what was it like when you arrived in Korea? What were your first impressions?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Okay, I arrived at Inchon and it was shortly after the last push through Inchon, and it was... Well, after Japan. Remember that Japan was just out of the war, and I was surprised about Japan, how poor it was, how cheap things were. But, the war ended in '45 and this was already, this was '51. So not many years had passed that they were able to get back on their feet. So, I was amazed at Japan, and at the poverty that I saw there. So when I got to Korea, and it was another thing, and then I was surprised... it's a shock. It's a culture shock. Every country you go to is a culture shock. Japan was a culture shock and then Korea was another one, a different kind.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Where did you stay at first?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

At first, my first duty was just outside of Seoul. It was a converted girls' school, that was turned into quartermaster. At that point they were going to assign us to ordnance, ammo ordnance. And we were doing some training there, and we were there... I loved it there. We had a cook who was a chef at one of the hotels. And we ate like you would not believe. I couldn't believe it, I hadn't eaten this well since I'd been in the service. And I wanted to stay there, and I stayed there for a while, as a company clerk, and they... but with the war going back and forth, we... they moved us later on. Oh, I'll tell you about that later, they moved us out of... but I loved it, and it was right outside of Seoul. And it was really nice and it was like, Seoul is just like... I'm sorry, Korea is just like it is in "M.A.S.H." Not funny all the time, but it's just like they picture it. Everything.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

So what was your assignment there? You were a clerk?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

I was company clerk at the beginning, and then I was a secretary to the company commander, and they needed another clerk further up, and I kept moving further north, further north, further north, and they needed another company clerk who was going to take over more than just company clerk duties, so I moved up to Sehong-ni. "Ni" in Korean means village, and "do" means island. I'll tell you more about that later on.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Did you see combat?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

I did and I didn't. I had been in combat areas, 'cause it was still during the war, but I was still, I don't, I guess there was a sense that I felt relatively safe-- you know, you're with your friends, you're with your, you know, so I still felt relatively safe.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Were there many casualties in your unit?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

In my unit, no, because I was handing out ammunition and different things to the front-- you know, artillery, rifle ammo, anything connected with ammo. And, uh, one of the funny stories about that is that when I was stationed in Sehong-ni... oh, god, I want to say... Margaret Chase Smith had come over to examine and see how things were. There was a rumor that there was not enough ammo in Korea. The rumor, believe it or not, was true. We were completely empty-- nothing, nada, noga, zip, zilch. So, she went back, Margaret Chase Smith went back to the Senate and told them what she had seen. And they sent a team over with the Secretary of Defense or War, I can't remember... Charles... I can't remember his name, and a bunch of senators. But by that time, they had sent over all the ammo that was stored in Japan to fill up the ordnance outfits, so by the time they came over, they said, "Well, what is she talking about? Look at this. They're stacked to the ceiling." You know? "Look at all this ammo."

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Can you tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

My most memorable experience... there's so many! I mean, because it was a wonderful experience. It was a horrible experience, it was a wonderful experience.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Can you tell us about that?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Yeah. One of the things was, what you did is, I had a case, and I used to have it chained to my arm, you know, just like handcuffs, and I never knew what was in it-- didn't want to know, didn't care, wasn't curious-- but I always had it handcuffed from one end of the trip to the other. And I'd always go by train. Sometimes I'd go by truck or jeep but maybe I'd go by train. And I happened to be on this train one time and there was a USO troupe on there, and it was Mickey Rooney and Audrey Totter, and they had come there and they were up in Seoul, and they were going to entertain in Taegu and Taejon and Pusan.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Were you ever a prisoner of war?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

No. I was at Panmunjom when the exchange was made across the bridge, and it was done over a week's time. We sent over our prisoners first, and they were all fat and happy and sassy and all had gained weight and they looked good and they were, you know, jostling and everything. They didn't want to go back, of course, because they were really eating well and living well, 'cause we treated our prisoners really great.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Were there many prisoners?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

There was, over a period of time. They, they, they, they let them, they let them across slowly, I mean, I guess they wanted to be a little more healthy, then some of them just couldn't, couldn't make it across, some of them were so weak. So they couldn't even help their friends across, so yeah, it was a slow process. It was a, it was a long bridge and it was a very slow process.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Were you awarded any medals or citations?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Just the Korean War medal. I had two bronze stars on that one. And, um, the Far East Command, and, uh, good conduct... what else? I have two others. I can't remember right off, right off the... I'll tell you... they were, I think they were unit citations.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

So how did you get them? What did you do to get those medals?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Well, they didn't give them out to us until we left. We left by point system. And after I got to Camp Carson in Colorado, they, they gave us all of our new uniforms, 'cause we left in fatigues, and when they issued us our new uniforms they issued us our ribbons. So they gave us a... and then of course they gave us a sheet, explaining what the... Oh, and then there's a new one, too, that the Koreans have given out as of the last five years. So, I have probably about maybe seven or eight... No no no no, not that many, uh, five, maybe six.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

How did you stay in touch with your family while you were in Korea?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Oh, that's a funny story, because I got awfully busy, and then I was so tired at night, you know, we would work, and we put, we put in long hours, and I would get kind of tired and I kind of got lax in writing to my family. My family at one point was so worried, they sent my name to the Red Cross. Because the war was on, they were afraid that, that I had been injured or hurt or captured or something because they hadn't heard from me in a long while. And then they... both the USO and the Red Cross came to me at the same time, and they both shook their hands at me and said, "You write to your family right away. They are absolutely beside themselves. They're really upset."

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Who did you write to at that time? Did you have a wife?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

I had a wife. I had a wife. I married in college. And my mother, and I had buddies that I... [unintelligible] pictures. I lost them along the way, 'cause I'm sort of a rolling stone, you know, and I lost a lot of my pictures. They saved a lot of the pictures and so I've had them duplicated, so I'm going to donate them.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

What was the food like?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

The food in Korea was excellent. Absolutely excellent. I have to give those guys credit. I mean, sometimes when we were out in the field and everything, you'd say... They'd always make sure, if they could, that you got a hot meal. And the food was good. I have no complaints. All this talk about "ugh, ugh, ugh, Army food" and everything, like... Sometimes you'd get a lot of, a lot of the same thing, like S.O.S., you know. Oh, that's chipped beef on toast, creamed chipped beef on toast. It's called "s" on a shingle.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Did you have plenty of supplies?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Yes. Yes. I have to say that I really did, I mean I... they, they really made sure that I had plenty. In fact, at one point, you know, they were making sure that we had plenty, that my friends the Turks and the Aussies were short of, of OD paint and oh, they were short of, you know, certain things, and I would make sure that, that they got them. I mean, they were on, they were fighting on our side, too. And I know one time I got them some, some paint that they desperately needed and they gave me one of those Aussie hats that go up on the side with the, with the little medal and everything on the side. I have since lost that, too, you know.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

So were you fighting with other countries?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Yes. Oh, god. Oh, we bonded. I always went to, um, the... well, they called them "naffies." I would go to their naffies, for, uh, tea and biscuits. And the Greeks always invited you in. The Turks always invited you in. Everybody was extremely generous-- the Gurkhas, all of them. The, the, the... our allies were absolutely... I have, I have nothing but kudos for them. They, they were there, they were present, and they suffered, you know, along with us.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Did you feel pressure or stress?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Only about that ammo thing. Um, I was lucky, the planes weren't flying over, you know, the MiGs weren't flying over at that, by the time I arrived, because remember, I took all that 16 weeks of basic, and then I took that 8 weeks of jump school. The, the MiGs weren't flying over, we just had this one guy fly over, and everybody used to laugh and they'd say "No, don't... what's? There's a plane flying over." It was an old bi-plane and it was from North Korea, and everybody called him "Bed Check Charlie" 'cause he used to fly over at the same time in the evening. I guess it was a, it was a recon plane, but it was an old, old plane.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Was there something special you did for good luck?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

For good luck. God, there were so many things that I now, I'm trying to think, that I don't, no longer do. There were so many things that I did for good luck at the time, you know. At one point I was so Catholic I would, you know, I used to, used to pray and I would go to Mass, and I'll never forget that we couldn't get to a priest when were at, at the front, you know, and uh, oh my God, I was in with this idea that, "Oh, you miss Sunday Mass, you do this, it's a sin" and everything like that. And as it would happen, my chaplain was a rabbi-- one of the nicest, one of the most wonderful chaplains that ever... and I used to go to him when I had a problem, and I told him what my problem was and he said, "Oh oh oh oh oh oh," he says, "Ric, do not worry about that." He says, "Any Catholic chaplain will tell you," he says, "I'm empowered to, you know, to, to, you know, anything you have a problem with, like a confession or... " And they were. They were. The Protestant, the Catholic and the rabbi, the... Catholics had to know all about the, the Jewish religion, and, and all of them had to know something to make the troops feel at ease. So he was... it was wonderful. I never believed that, and, and, and when I finally told a Catholic priest about it, he says, "Oh, no," he says, "You did the right thing. Your rabbi was your chaplain, and you should go to him." And I did.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

How did people entertain themselves?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Oh, that was wonderful. That was wonderful, yeah. We got movies, just like "M.A.S.H." we got movies, every night. Every single night. And when movies didn't arrive, that was like, you would hear this [whining noise], you know, because we wanted our movies. No matter how bad they were, how good, we wanted our movies, you know? And so we had movies every night. We had, whenever a USO troupe was there, and they would come... a lot of times they went up to the front and didn't stop. We got different USO troupes. A lot of people you've never heard of now, maybe on, on old Lucille Ball or something like that, on "I Love Lucy" you might see some of the... like Joy Lansing, who was sort of like Marilyn Monroe. We got a lot of USO people that came over, Betty Hutton and Marlene Dietrich, Patricia Neal, Doris Day... We got a lot of entertainment.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

What did you do when on leave?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Oh. Leave. Leave to me went abs... Leave was in Seoul. Leave was a lot of times into the nearest large city. But I, I went on two R and Rs. I went to, to Japan, I went to Yokohama, and I went to, let's see, where else did I go? I had, oh, I went to Bangkok.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Can you tell us about these experiences?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Oh, they were wonderful. Oh! It was won-- They treated, they treated the, in Yokohama and in... they treated the servicemen really fantastic, really. I have no complaints. I never, I never got robbed, I never got... you heard... we heard a lot of horror stories, about the poorer people and how you had to worry about this, but no, I had a wonderful time.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Did you socialize with people?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I sure did. I mean, my, my big thing is that I like people from other countries. And I liked meeting, you know like, I loved meeting the Aussies and I loved meeting the New Zealanders, and I met a couple of Russian sailors in Yokohama. And all I knew was "da" and "nyet" and all they knew was, you know, "yes" and "no." We didn't have to know the language. They were fun. You're, you're, you're all young, you're all... the Cold War didn't affect us, you know, I mean, we didn't hate. You know, there wasn't this, this, because they were Russians we hated them, and they didn't hate, they didn't seem to hate us.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Did you socialize with other gay people?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Yes. The gay, the gay community over, not... There, I want to be really crystal clear: It was a nightmare here in the States. It was a nightmare. 'Cause this is just before the McCarthy hearings, and I mean it was just, it was, it was awful, I mean if you were gay here it was over, Grover, you know, anywhere in the United States, unless of course you were out of uniform and went, you know, went to Chicago or Milwaukee or wherever you happened to be, Louisville, or whatever, you went out to the gay bars outside, you know, then it was different. But the, the, the, the... what is it I'm trying to say? The tenor of the country was very bad. But once you got overseas, oh, the commanders looked the other way and you know, you'd be leaving somebody's tent, you know, and they didn't say anything, they didn't care, they didn't... We had a couple of guys who used to do drag at the bar, um, the company commander thought they were wonderful. He used to cheer them on, and he was, he was a really great guy. He was Polish, and he was very, very straight.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

So were you able to be openly gay in Korea? Would you say that?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

I don't think, I'm trying to think if I was really openly gay at that point, because you were so used to dragging your closet door around in those days that-- it's way before Stonewall and you were so used to doing that, and I certainly didn't do it at, when I was in stateside, not at all, nuh-uh. That's too frightening... but yeah, you were able to be as open as you wanted to be in, in a war zone. You were open as you wanted to be. And most of the gay guys that were there, it just, it was wonderful for them. And they did their job, it didn't interfere with their work, it just... after hours, it was an after-hours thing.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Did you have any problems because someone knew that you were gay?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

No, not exactly problems. Not exactly problems, but one of the stories, one of the funny stories is that, that overseas... did I just pull this off? [Cameraman cuts, replaces clip-on microphone] Bad experiences? No. I had funny experiences, but no bad experiences. I would have, like I said, back in the States there would have been nothing but bad experiences. But overseas, no. One of the things was, all the straight guys would come up to you and they'd say-- if they knew you were gay-- and they'd say, you know, "I'm going back in a month, I'm going back in two weeks, and I can't go to the village, and I can't go see, you know, my woman, I can't do this, 'cause I can't come back with a disease, so could you come by my tent tonight?" Or, you know... that's one of the things I thought was funny, because today, with AIDS and everything like that, it's just, it's a reversal, but then, you couldn't get a disease from another G.I.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Where did you travel, while you were in the service?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

While in the service? To Bangkok, to Rangoon, to, uh, Yokohama... I never made Tokyo, I wish I would have made it to Tokyo, and I always wanted to go into French Indochina. I wanted to go to Angkor Wat, and I was hoping to do that on one of my... I didn't have enough time... um, all of Korea, from, from Pusan all the way up to Panmunjom, even beyond that (I think Sehong-ni is beyond Panmunjom).

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual events?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Humorous, good God, there's so many things, it, it... There's bound to be humor wherever you go, I'm just trying to think of funny stories, because, um, 'cause you know my mind is going to fail me now, now that I need, I need, you know, to read it, to bring this back, because there were so many funny stories that I can remember, um... other than the train, um... Isn't it funny, now that I'm trying to think of these things, the sadder ones, the sadder stories come to me, rather than the funny ones? 'Cause there was, there was many more funny incidents that would happen, like the Marilyn Monroe thing, us leaving a day early and still we were so far back she was this big, like a, like a little bit of purple, you know, and, uh, I did... and Joe DiMaggio was just as small, he was off to the side, but it evades me right now. If I remember, I'll try and...

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Well, what about sad stories, then?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

One of the saddest, I... the Panmunjom story is extremely sad, but the saddest story I ever had was, we had gone down to pick up supplies down at Inchon, and my driver said, "Look why don't you walk around?" He says, "I'm going to make sure that... I've got the manifest, I'll make sure we pick up the supplies." At that point, the hospital ship Benevolence was in, in port, and they were loading it full of wounded, mainly Marines at that, at that point, from the 1st Marine Division. And I was talking to, to one of the doctors, and I couldn't believe it, it looked like a scene, almost like the scene out of "Gone with the Wind," where the-- just before the intermission-- where the... nothing but wounded all around, you know?

Katia Bore-Falecker:

What were some of the pranks that you or others would pull in Korea?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Oh my God, they're unending and unrelenting, I mean, you know, guys, get the guys together, you know, and they're just, you know... everything, from short-sheeting to sticking your, you know, you're tired, and, and you have a choice of running out-- remember one thing, especially in wintertime, it's very, very cold there, and you don't want to run out to the latrine, you know, and, 'cause it's a wooden building, you know, quite a ways out-- and so you'd just say, "Oh, I'll go in the morning, I'll go in the morning," and your buddy would come in and put your, your hand in some hot water, and you'd, you'd go, right there, in your sleep, you know? Things like that-- oh, they'd just... full of pranks. They're what kept them going, they just... and they were funny, and I guess a lot of the stuff today would seem mean-spirited, but I gotta tell you, it wasn't. It wasn't. They were good guys, and none of it... If they'd thought it was mean-spirited, they wouldn't have done it. But I guess by today's P.C. it would be considered mean- spirited. But, oh, you name it and they did it.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

What did you think of officers or fellow soldiers?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Great. I thought... I'll tell you the truth, and I really, I didn't... I, I haven't thought about this in years. But when I was in service overseas, I thought "I don't like the guys that I'm with," 'cause we were all trying to make it. I'm not sure I liked them. We were all trying to do one-upmanship. I definitely hated the NCOs, the sergeants, and then the corporals and everything, and I hated, you know, the, the officers. But when we got overseas, and we saw, I saw, how human they were, and how you relied on your buddies for this and you relied on your buddies for that, and how the camaraderie and the closeness and... It's so hard to explain the difference between stateside... Oh, one of the funny things that, I still run into some guys that I served with, because my whole outfit went to Germany, and they were, they had white-glove inspections, they went on maneuvers, it was constant, you know, all of this, where I was having just a workaday job-- sometimes 12 hours, but, you know, mainly 8, 9 hours, you know? And, and they were going through a grueling thing in Germany. They were, some were in Dusseldorf and some were in Dresden, and they hated it.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Did you keep a personal diary?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

I did. I lost it, and I wished I had it, because some of the pranks, some of the funny stuff, 'cause I especially wrote down all of the funny stuff. I'm hoping I can find it, or find pages from it or something, 'cause I have some stuff in storage, which I want to donate to the, you know... You can't take the stuff with you so, I'm going to donate it, you know. But a lot of funny stories, 'cause I have more funny stories and more interesting stories than I do sad stories.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Do you recall the day your service ended?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Oh, this is a good, this is a funny one. This is a really funny one. Yes I did. We, we did the point system, and I lived well in my last, in my last, what, outpost, the last place that I was. Uh, it was a very small compound near a village, and I lived very well. I had a houseboy who, who made my bed and who, who had my shoes shined and everything. I mean, I lived really well. Um, food was good, everything was great. My... I had great buddies, and a lot... there's a constant changeover, 'cause towards the end, during the peace talks, there was this constant changeover of the point system. So I was losing old buddies but I was making friends with new guys. When I found out that I had enough points to go home, I wanted to stay a little longer, I wanted to extend it, but you know how anxious you are to get home, too, you know? You want to get home, so I, I chose home, but I really-- this is very strange-- I really cried when I left Korea. I missed the Koreans, I missed my friends, I missed the service, I missed everything-- not the war, but I missed that whole, that whole experience.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Where were you when you left?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Munsan-ni.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

What did you do in the days and weeks afterward?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

When I, when I, uh, well, there was the, the, the trip back, which was the southern, the southern route, thank God. The sea wasn't as rough. Is that what you mean? That, yeah. And then, of course, I had left Seattle, you know, the first time, and I was coming back into Seattle so my ship was going to dock at San Francisco and then at Seattle, so I cam in at, I left at Seattle and I came in at Seattle.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

So did you go back to work, or did you go to school?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

No, what happened, my, my wife was driving with my son and decided that she was going to see some girlfriends along the way, you know, that we had gone to school with at Marquette, and she was driving, and she got just outside of Portland, and a drunk came out about three o'clock in the afternoon and hit her car. It went over an embankment, and she was in a coma for 15 days and then she died, and then my son only had a little scratch over his eye.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

So you raised your child?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Not at first, I was, not at first. I had what, we didn't know what then, what do they call it? Stress, post-stress syndrome, what do they call that?

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Post-traumatic-?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Post-traumatic stress syndrome, I had it. They used to call it battle fatigue. And then, the fact that my wife dying, and going to the hospital, and staying at the hospital, you know, um, there, and so it was a couple of years, my wife took care of my, I mean, my parents took care of my son. And I was, I was pretty much of a mess, at that point. And I don't blame Korea, you know, I mean, I blame the, what happened, the whole thing, you know.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

So you found a job after that?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Yes. One thing about, about coming back home, I'm from Chicago. Chicago not only gave us a stipend called Korean Veterans, one thousand dollars, but, and-- uh, I probably went out and bought a car-- and they also held your job under state law, that... For some odd reason I didn't really want to go back to what I was doing, I was like, you know, a clerk typist. I didn't want to go back to that, I went, I decided I wanted to do something different, so I decided I'd get ready, go to coll-- go back to college, now that I had the G.I. Bill.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

So your education was supported by the G.I. Bill?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

My first two years were my own money and my folks' money, which I frittered away; that's why Uncle Sam said [making finger gesture for "come here"]. Yeah, but the second, the, you know, going back, was the G.I. Bill, and it was very, very serious, so I really paid attention. I was, and then I also, overseas was able, they had courses you could take through the, um, I forget what they're called now, you could take all these different courses, they're written courses, like, like correspondence courses, and you could take, and I took a lot of subjects while I was over there.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Did you make any close friendships while in the service?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

You know, it's very funny. Yes, extremely so. Life isn't linear, and I wish it was, because you make these promises to friends, even of last year, of last, 10 years ago, of, in college, in grade school, in high school, and in the service, that you swear a lifetime commitment to these people, these are your friends, and you're gonna keep in touch no matter what, but you don't. It just... one by one by one, you just get busy, and your life, you have your life, your immediate life, and it's, somehow you're not able to keep in touch. So I'm sorry to say, which is what I'm now trying to do with the Korean Veterans' War Reunion, oh, Korean War Veterans' Reunion, and also I went to my grade school reunion, and I went to my high school reunion, and I'll probably go to my college reunion. I enjoy them immensely, and was able to re-establish friendships. This is what I hope to be able to do with the Korean War Veterans' Reunion.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

So did you join a veterans' organization, or gay veterans' organization?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

No, we didn't... oh no, oh no, no way, they didn't have such a thing. And what I joined when I, when I got out of service they had what is it, remember, I'm trying to remember, not, not the militia, what do you call it, your, you have to serve 10 years altogether, two years active duty and then eight years in the reserve. That's the word I was looking for. So I spent eight years in the reserve which I liked, which I really did enjoy, but no, I didn't join the gay veterans until just recently, and then they... I somehow don't meet on the same nights, I'm busy on the nights they... 'cause I really like keeping up with the gay veterans.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or about the military in general?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Yes, funny you should bring that up. I was in California when Kennedy sent the first advisors over to Vietnam, military advisors. And there were close to 500 protesters, and five of us were Korean War veterans. And the judge let everybody go-- we were all arrested-- and the judge let everybody go except for the five Korean War veterans. We went to, we went to jail. We got bailed out by our folks, of course, but we went to jail. And the judge said, "How could you as, you know, as veterans, now turn against your country?" And I said, "It's not a case of turning against our country, it's, we didn't think there'd be another war." And he said, "How can you as veterans, you know, do this?" and I said, "How can we not?" So we went to the slam, but I think I was only in there probably the weekend, it was a Friday, and I was in Friday night, and I probably, I think I was out Monday, Monday morning, 'cause I know I had my job after that.

Katia Bore-Falecker:

In your veterans' organization now, what kind of activities do you have?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

I'm not as active as I want to be. I want to be much more active in the gay veterans' organization, because I think it's important that the, okay, when we had the march in, when was it, in '96? We had a really big march and everybody marched, and the Holocaust victims marched, and everybody, World War II, Korean War veterans, and the Vietnamese, Vietnam veterans marched, and I remember us coming to the, to the mall first, and I remember the Vietnam veterans coming up to, to me and hugging me, and saying, "You guys really should get a lot of credit," they were, there's a camaraderie between... and we felt the same way too about the... and they did, too, about the Persian Gulf and so on and so forth. There is a thing... I am really, I am against war, I'm against, I'm a peacenik, but at the same time, if we have to, I mean, if the country is attacked, I'll be the first one to re-up. I mean, if the country is attacked, if it's another, uh, another, um, New York, it's another Pentagon, another, um World Trade Tower, I'd, I'd... that's when I, when I feel it. But, I mean to, to... Unless we're absolutely, positively, without a doubt sure that... but just going about and killing your, your fellow man is just, I felt that way about... I didn't hate North Koreans. And I didn't, I certainly didn't hate the Chinese, 'cause I have so many Chinese friends now. And, you know, I just... how could you hate somebody, you know? First of all, I always felt, how could you hate somebody you'd like to go to bed with, maybe, you know?

Katia Bore-Falecker:

How did your service and experiences affect your life?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

I think, but the, again, life is linear but your memory isn't, and I think, everything that I did, and even all the horrible mistakes and all the terrible things that I made, I have to say this about the, the Korean thing: If I knew what I knew now, I'd have been ER instead of RA, which means I wouldn't have been drafted, I would have joined. But I didn't know that. I just knew I was, I was twenty, and I wanted to play, and I discovered my sexuality, and Chicago is a great place to be if you're gay, and young, and you know, and, I didn't want to leave! In fact, um, it was a little disconcerting to my family because five of my boyfriends came down to see me, to see me before I left, before I left Fort Sheridan. They were not too happy about that. I said, "Oh, they're just good buddies," you know, everything... Everything was just so closeted, you know. So I said, "Oh, they're just good buddies." That's how...

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Is there anything you would like to add that we haven't covered in this interview?

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Oh, I know there's a million things, but I just can't think of them right now, that's the terrible thing. I just, I'm hoping and... I would like to add one thing and that is, I would like some of my buddies that I was stationed with, I would like them to see this film, this clip. I'd like to see them again. Gay, straight, bi-- I would love to see them again, you know?

Katia Bore-Falecker:

Well, thank you for sharing your recollections.

Rick Mendoza-Gleason:

Thank you.

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us