CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
John Giunco was born in Spring Lake, New Jersey, in 1928. In February 1951, at the age of 22, and a recent college graduate, Giunco was living in Belmar when he was drafted into the U.S Army. He was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he declined an officer candidate school appointment. Giunco received basic and advanced infantry training, and he then went on to Seattle, Washington, where he boarded a ship to Japan and, ultimately, South Korea.
Giunco was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division’s 8th Cavalry Regiment, where he was detailed to the Fire Direction Center (FDC) of the regiment’s heavy (4.2 inch bore diameter) mortar company. He recalled that Korea initially seemed like a barren “no man’s land” to him. Giunco compared the mountainous terrain and rolling hills with those of West Virginia, a state he visited after the war.
On arrival at his unit, Giunco did not know anyone, and he was immediately assigned to a night perimeter guard post. He remembered that he was very scared, so much so that he was afraid to load his M-1 Garand rifle for fear the noise would alert the enemy to his position. Throughout those pitch-black hours of darkness, Giunco sat holding a hand grenade; and, at dawn he was surprised to see that there was another soldier a couple of feet away from him. After that night, which he defined as “my first Korean combat experience,” he reported to the mortar FDC, where he would work for the rest of his tour of duty.
Giunco described the job at the FDC as providing sighting directions to mortar crews shelling the enemy to protect infantrymen who were advancing or on the defensive. He described the 4.2-inch mortars, known in army slang as “Four Deuce” guns, as “monsters” as it took several people to move and sight them in on their targets. The mortar shells weighed twenty-five pounds each, and were very effective. Giunco recalled that his unit won every fight it was engaged in.
His first enemy contact was with the Chinese, who had intervened in the war to aid the North Koreans; his division’s opponents during his service in the conflict were primarily Chinese soldiers. Giunco said that although the Chinese infantrymen were not well trained, they were fanatical fighters in the attack; he recalled that “they just never let up.” He stated that many of the small arms the Chinese carried were called “burp guns,” which were pistol caliber Soviet made submachine guns. Giunco added that the Chinese enemy were excellent mortar men.
During his months in Korea, Giunco had very little rest or relaxation time, as his unit was in the fight day in and day out, always on the move against the enemy. He described his most significant action as a battle at “Old Baldy Hill” in October of 1951. The Chinese were “fantastically dug in” on the hill when the Americans attacked. It was a very serious fight, and Giunco remembered it as being a wild battle, saying “it just took a heck of a lot of time and one mess of a lot of casualties.”
Americans were not the only combatants fighting the Chinese and North Koreans during the war; the United States and South Korean soldiers were aided by United Nations (UN) forces. Giunco recalled that the UN allies he encountered included Greek, Turkish, and Thai troops. He praised them as excellent and tough soldiers. Giunco said that weather was very cold in Korea during the winter, recalling that “they didn’t give us parkas until later…we wore fatigues… once we got into December we layered clothes.” He remembered some local people bringing the Americans hot food to supplement their C-rations. The meals were indeed hot; but, Giunco remembered that the food was sometimes gritty from dirt that got into it. He said, “They could keep the food warm but could not keep the dirt out”.
In December of 1952, Giunco began his long trip home with other soldiers who had completed their tours of duty, leaving his unit for the port of Inchon, where he boarded a ship that stopped in Japan and then on to San Francisco, arriving at dawn on Christmas Eve. Giunco and other soldiers whose homes were in the east were flown on a cargo plane to Philadelphia and bussed to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, near New Brunswick, where he was relieved from active duty. He then hitchhiked to Belmar, where his mother, father, wife and newborn son were spending Christmas, surprising them on Christmas morning.
In November of 2001, Giunco returned to South Korea to visit the sites he recalled from the war, and he was amazed with how the country had changed. Looking back at the conflict and seeing the ultimate result made him feel that the war had served a purpose and helped the people of South Korea. He recalled that “it made you think that you did something good”. At the end of his interview, Giunco was asked by the interviewer “John…would you do it again?” He answered, “Yes I would do it again,” ending with: “This is a great country and worth fighting for”.
John Giunco passed away on November 8, 2013.