Belgium Brussels (1)

>> My name is Roger Verbist. I went to Korea with the first battalion. I joined the first Belgian volunteers on the first or second of October, 1950 and got trained in Belgium until we left on the 18th of December on board of The Camina to go to Korea. It took us 6 weeks to arrive at last in Korea, in Busan, after a not-so-pleasant trip because the ship was not made for so many people. We were overcrowded. Anyway, we arrived at last on the 31st of January '51, in Busan at port. After that, we went to a trainings camp for a week of adaptation equipment change because we were fully equipped with the good old Belgian army coat and everything, which was really not adapted for the Korean thing. Also, to sleep, we had five, six blankets, which was really uncomfortable or impossible to take with you. Anyway, so after 1 week or so change, in 2 weeks maybe, where one nice remembrance is that we went training at night. Our second in command, Major Vivario at that time, he became later lieutenant general in the Belgian army, head of the Belgian army, but at that time, he was a major, second in command. He took the whole battalion out on a night exercise to get adapted to the mountains and everything and the hills, and we left in Indian file, and when we came back, he only had two people behind him. All the rest of the people had been lost. But anyway, we came back a few hours later to the camp. After that, we went for another what they call [INAUDIBLE] and said [FOREIGN LANGUAGE]. It was [INAUDIBLE] of course between guerrilla and [INAUDIBLE]. After there, a few things, at last, we could go to the front line at the Han in the winter that time still, quite cold at the Han and everything, stayed there in position. Anyway, we crossed the Han and moved to the north. We had in April the Battle of the Imjin where we got surrounded, and as I said, I had nothing, but I've seen it all what happened there and everything. After that, we had some relative peace when we went to the neighborhood of Gimpo, the other side of the Han. That's where I took my first rest and recreation holiday in Japan and where I got promoted from corporal to sergeant for the Battle of the Imjin. Anyway, after that, we had, with the first battalion, a lot of [INAUDIBLE] which have been explained by General Crahay in is book. [INAUDIBLE] participated on that, and while I was there, on the 23rd of March, we had a fight before the Imjin, even, on the hill where I had some personal experiences and killed an American observer and some Chinese, but okay. I never had any. It was not my fault. He shouldn't have been there in the dark at night. We never knew he was there, but he was a hero, really, this guy. But anyway ... >> Explain what ... Explain a little bit. >> Explain? >> Uh-huh. What happened? >> Well, it's never ... You see, it was what they said, hill 155, 3 kilometer out of [INAUDIBLE]. The C company, which was my company, and the third platoon, we had been progressing, and in the afternoon, we took over hill 155 from an American company. I don't know which were the guys, but they had taken the hill, and they were still everywhere, Chinese around foxholes and everything, some still smoking from phosphor and everything. Anyway, we took over the top, my platoon, the rest of the battalion. It was the top of the whole thing. The rest was down. The battalion was everywhere. We had the top. So the lieutenant, the American, I still remember. When he left, he said, "Oh, guys, I would be careful. You probably will get a visit tonight." He meant from the Chinese. Anyway, we had foxholes, and we threw the bodies off. I don't know if this [INAUDIBLE] threw them off. We took over the foxholes because they were [INAUDIBLE], and we settled down for the night, but we had been working just with a little backpack, so nothing, sleeping bags, nothing, nothing, nothing real. Anyway, at the certain time when it got dark, they said, "Ah, the trucks arrived downstairs at the hill. One-third of the platoon can go down and get the kit bags for your sleeping bags for the night," and everything and everything. So instead of 1/3, about 25 people went down. We were left on top of the hill with maybe 10 people. That was all. So while they were down to pick up, we got attacked by Chinese, and the first thing I heard, I was in a foxhole. It was when a grenade fell in the shoe of the companion who was with me. He had took off his shoes. He was not supposed to, but he had done anyway. A grenade fell in his shoes and rolled away, and his shoe exploded. He had size 46, so at around maybe 3 months later because they didn't serve the size of shoes on his gymslips. Anyway, we got out. They were all over the place between us in the dark, and I got out, and I did something to some Chinese [INAUDIBLE], and as I said, very dark, confused. One guy came getting up on the thing, and I couldn't tell. It was an American first sergeant, I found out later, an American first sergeant major, who was an observer for the motors. I didn't know he was there. Anyway, I shot him, and he died of his wounds later, so I still thinking ... I have never known, knew his name, who he was or everything. That was one thing that, if you say, that after that, that I said we did. After May, everything got more quiet down, a little bit more comfortable, so then after the day, the day after that I shot this guy, General MacArthur came on visit. Oh, yeah, I met him downstairs. They called me down. In effect, he said, "I know what you did. Don't worry. You did what you have to do. It's not your fault," and at that time, too, the chaplain of the battalion came to me said. He said, "Oh, you know, I have some bad news for you." I said, "What?" He said, "Your father died." I said, "Oh, yeah?" I said, "When?" He said, "Well, in the middle of January." I didn't know, so I said ... Well, he said, "Yeah, we apologize that you've been advised so late," and so on and so on. And then he said, "Do you want to go to Belgium?" I said, "What am I going to do in Belgium now? He's gone 2 months already. Now you tell me, so, no, I don't want to go to Belgium. I stay with the battalion." So then, anyway, the first battalion went back home somewhere middle of August. We had to take the General McRae to go back to Amsterdam, and about 400 of us went back to Belgium. In Belgium, I had 1 months of holiday, and after that, we joined the first airborne battalion to get parachute training which I did obtain my parachute training. At the beginning of January, I was qualified and everything, and then I was giving training to some [INAUDIBLE]. That time, they had draftees. We still had draftees, so I was training draftees in [INAUDIBLE]. I didn't like it, so I re-enlisted for Korea, and the 3rd of March, I went back to the training center of Korea in [INAUDIBLE], stayed 1 month, and I rejoined the battalion where I arrived. I left Belgium again on the 7th of April and arrived on the 24th of April, just in time for the celebration of the Battle of the Imjin where there was a ceremony there. And there, at that time, I decided, and I said, "I'll never go back until the last Belgian goes back," and that I did. I stayed until '55 until the last Belgians had to come back. >> [INAUDIBLE] >> No. If you're interested, in '54, but then after the third year or second year, you got 1 month of holiday in Japan, and regular R and R, like they said, famous R and R. I had people I knew in the embassy. In fact, one of my friends, he's married to a Korean. Her name is Kim, by the way. They have this shop in [INAUDIBLE], very famous, really became rich, she did, very aggressive saleswoman and everything. No, they have a very good company. It's still existing, Pagoda, in [INAUDIBLE]. It specialized in Oriental stuff and everything, and that's why I learned my wife, my friends married her. I went to their wedding party in Tokyo. One year later, I also went to the celebration of their first baby which was born in Tokyo, so I've been kept in touch with them very much. I learned my wife there, and I went back to Korea, and then I applied for permission. You had to have permission to get married that time. Oh, yes. There are a lot of regulations. I still have them. In fact, you had to do this and that and that and that and that. I did all that and brought it to the embassy in October '54 to get married, and I came to the embassy. This is another story, and the chancellor said to me, "I'm sorry. I can't marry you because the Belgian government changed the regulations. If you want to marry, you first have to go back to Belgium, stay 1 year there, and you can't come back to Korea. You have to bring her there and everything." He said, "I can't marry you. Everything is okay, but I can't marry you." Said, "but," he said, "Do you want to get married?" I said, "Sure." He said, "Okay. Tell your wife to go to the local administration not outside of Tokyo." I said, "They don't have the instructions yet." I said, "Get married for Japanese law." And he said, "If it's Japanese, and if you're married there," he said, "You bring me the papers. The same day, I make a Belgium passport for it." That doesn't exist anymore. At that time, it was. "And you're legally married because Japanese law is legal in Belgium," so we did. My wife went to ... We lived in Tsurumi between Yokohama and Tokyo. She went there. In fact, I didn't even go. She just brought all the papers. No, I was staying at home. She took two witnesses, and they witnessed, and we were legally married. So I went to the embassy. She got a passport. It's the chancellor who did it. I was not supposed to do it. He was a very nice fellow, so that's it. So then I stayed until '55 in Korea until the last one and came back on the last like everybody else, and wife rejoined me. >> After the armistice in 1953, July 27th, what were some of the things? Because people think the war ended, so everybody goes home, right? But you stayed until 1955. >> Mm-hmm. >> What did you do there after the armistice? >> '55? Well ... >> No, after the armistice, what did you do there? Why did you stay in Korea for another year and a half? >> Well, we had still some obligations to the American thing and to the United Nations. There was not officially, shall I say, a peace. There was a cease-fire, but still, they still have demarcation line, as you know, so at that time, we were still there at the first time. They still expected some attacks even after that from the Chinese, so we were staying there on the line, occupying our position. We had to move back so many kilometers to have the demarcation zone. We had to move back. We occupied and just stood guard like we did before except that we didn't get artillery shells and everything for the rest. Then after 5, 6 week, we went back, rotated, got in reserve, and there, we did like the Belgian army does when they're on the camps, and we're training, exercises with the Americans, tests, to compare our combat readiness, tested by the Americans, which, by the way, we came out first of the whole thing. We had 87 percent, I think. We always used to love the [INAUDIBLE] They wear those big boots. They couldn't move around, so I think we wear just a normal thing. We moved around like that on the hills three times when they moved. That was the thing. We were training just like, as I said to him, hasn't known this. He has just known the period in Korea at the beginning there when there was every day moving up mountain, down mountain, up mountain, here a shot, there a shot, attack, this and that, never ate really. At night, you slept in a little hole and everything. After that, from when I went back in the beginning of '52, '51, things had changed completely. Before, it was a moving war, and every day, as I said, up and down, up and down, up and down. You never had any food, C rations and things. After that, when we get a static war and got on lines, it changed. We had tents where you had certain periods on line where of course, you were in bunkers and had some attacks and patrols, but once you were out of the line, in reserve or so, you had tents, beds, cots, to sleep on. You got a bar. You got food instead of C rations all the time, so conditions changed completely, and I said, I've had worse training in Germany as I had there in Korea at that time. That was the thing, but we stayed there because they wanted, how I shall I say, to have the representation of a Belgian thing. That was 200 people they chose who stayed. >> Mm. Did you go back to Korea? >> Huh? >> Did you go back to Korea after the war? >> Yes. After the war, as I said, after Washington, I quit the army after 6 years at the embassy in Washington. I quit the army. I took to my pension after 20 years, and at that time, I was 38 years old, so I had to make a decision. Am I staying in the army, no promotion until I'm 56 and then retire, or am I going to try to do business, a career in private civilian life? I decided to get out, so in fact, I still have my blue card as a permanent resident of the United States, but my wife and my daughter then, they wanted to move out, and me too, out of Washington, so we went to Hawaii and lived 1 year in Honolulu where, in fact, I got my first job as assistant manager from the Hilton Lagoon apartments. I don't know if you know Hawaii. The Hilton Lagoon, I got there. After 1 year, my wife and daughter, and me too, said "Always this sun, always this beach. Let's go back to Japan," so we moved to Japan. >> I asked whether you went back to Korea to ... >> Yeah, well, that's what I'm coming to, yeah? So was in Japan, I start working in civilians for civilian transportation, German, Japanese thing. I went. I had very good relationship with ... It was in the air cargo business, so I had very good relationship, first of all, with Korean Airlines, and I had to go at least six, seven times to Korea as civilian then for business. >> What year? What year? >> I was in from '76 to '90, I stayed. I was in Japan, but as I said, at that time, I traveled to Australia and New Zealand. I'm doing what you're doing now, I did many times before: the States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Europe. I did that at the time, but I went back at least four or five times to Korea for business with a certain Mr. Lee. There are also many Mr. Lees and Kims. I've been back many times. >> When was the last time you went? >> As civilian? The last time I went was in 2012 for the big Revisit Korea thing. >> Oh, and so it was very different from when you went for ... >> That's what I've told him. He remembers, and I remember, first time where we went in Seoul, I still remember the railroad station. Everything was in ruins, and everything there in '55, when I left, was already quite a different change, but not like this, but I told him. I said, "You're going to be surprised when you're going to [INAUDIBLE]," because it was still in his mind this way. Anyway, but it's the same in Tokyo. When I was first time in Japan in Tokyo, it's nothing. Now, the last time I went to Tokyo was maybe 4 years ago. Every year, and I lived in Tokyo [INAUDIBLE] between Tokyo and Yokohama, 12, 13 years there. I lived there. When I left in '90, came back to France because I lived in France, and I went back 5 years later, I didn't recognize Tokyo already: new highways and everything. And every time I go back with my wife and my daughter now, it changes so quickly. >> Well, so let's go back to Korea. >> Yes. >> So, did you think of ... >> You know what? >> The people, I mean, what you experienced now towards the end of ... You visited again recently in 2012, and, you know, it's very ... You say, it was very different, and, I mean, just the people. Explain a little bit more about what you felt because you were there when ... almost 70 years ago. >> What I saw in 2012 was the normal Revisit Korea program. We went to Busan to the military cemetery, or to the United Nations cemetery, to visit. We visit [INAUDIBLE], a few ceremonies in Seoul and things like that, ceremonies and medal and things like that of the normal program, but I was amazed by the efficiency. This tour was organized, and as I said, how they took care of us, that amazed. There was just another couple who was in a wheelchair. They were waiting at the airport. Took us there. I said, everything was perfectly organized because I have been worried. I said, many times, I worry when Korean veterans, Korean nationals, came to visit Belgium, they didn't get the same reception. Much less, huh? >> Okay. >> I found that regrettable.