Korean War

Joseph J. Pisano

Korean War Oral History Interview
US Army, 2nd Infantry Division
Date: June 1, 2001
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Jon Furson
Veterans History Project


Joseph “Sonny” Pisano was born and raised in Neptune, New Jersey. He was drafted into the United States army during the Korean War. Pisano supported the war, as he was very anti-communist and felt it was his duty to serve in the military.

2nd Infantry Division Combat Service Identification Badge.

Despite being naturally somewhat concerned about going overseas to a war zone, Pisano felt well prepared, as the mountainous landscape he encountered during his training was very similar to the Korean terrain. He left for Korea in July, 1953 on a ship from Seattle, Washington, arriving at Pusan, after a stop in Japan, fourteen days later. From Pusan Pisano traveled by train to his assigned unit, the 2nd Infantry Division. He recalled that Korea was a very poor country at the time, with people living in mud and grass huts, and that he felt sorry for them. Pisano mentioned that he got along very well with the Korean civilians, and that he gave some of his rations to begging children. The 2nd Infantry Division had South Korean soldiers attached to it, as well as a few civilians, including some young children who were like servants. Although he had fond memories of the South Korean soldiers and civilians, he despised North Korea and its people for invading the South.

After being interviewed by a lieutenant, who commented on his test scores and education level, since he was a college graduate, Pisano was assigned to the Judge Advocate (legal) office of the Division. Within days of his arrival in Korea, a ceasefire was announced. Fortunately for Pisano, he never experienced active combat, even though he was in an infantry unit. He recalled that his army jobs were like going to work or school each day. After working in the army court system, Pisano was transferred to the intelligence section of Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 2nd Division’s 38th Infantry Regiment. As an intelligence analyst, he looked at maps as well as interrogated young men suspected of being spies.

Prior to assuming his position in the intelligence section, Pisano received a month of intelligence training in Tokyo. He remembered Japan as being a very beautiful country with beautiful people and excellent food. Pisano was surprised to see Japanese musicians playing American music, but Japan had become very open to Western culture following the end of World War II. The Japanese benefitted from American soldiers, because they spent money which boosted the country’s economy.

Pisano later returned to Japan for a week of Rest and Recuperation (R&R) leave. While on R&R, he met a beautiful Japanese girl and corresponded with her for some time after he left the country. Pisano enjoyed his time in Japan so much that he was reluctant to return to Korea, although he was content that his tour of duty was coming to an end shortly. It became shorter than he thought. Pisano was supposed to return to America for discharge in August, 1955, but he was actually released early, in November, 1954.

Aside from his time in Tokyo, Pisano had no time for recreation, but he was lucky enough to be within several feet of Marilyn Monroe at a USO show, and he recalled being pulled away from her by other soldiers. He also became a popular man in his outfit after becoming friends with a soldier who had access to unlimited supplies of beer. His mother sent him “care packages” of pepperoni, cheese, cookies, and candy, and Pisano shared his pepperoni with a Korean soldier whose English vocabulary was limited to one word, “pepperoni.” While serving in Korea he also met his cousin, who was assigned to the same unit. His cousin left for home before Pisano did, and promised to pick up a Chrysler car for him.

Except for some units in the War for Independence, the Korean War was the first conflict in which the United States fielded a desegregated military. Pisano remembered having several African Americans in his unit who were treated as any other soldier was. He recalled that there had been no problems associated with the military integration of African Americans.

Sonny Pisano (left) at his recognition luncheon.

Pisano never regretted his service in Korea. At times, he wished he had stayed in the military for a longer period, because it provided young men like him with a chance to see the world and meet a lot of people from all walks of life, both in and out of the military. Reflecting on his own time in the army, Pisano reflected that everyone should be required to serve at least one year in the military, as his own service had helped mature him and would do the same for many other young people. After the war, he stayed in contact with a few of his friends from Korea who lived in Pittsburgh, but as the years went by, they drifted apart.

Joseph John “Sonny” Pisano passed away in January 2002, three months after his recognition luncheon.