Diana N. Medina Maldonado

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Pablo Pérez Ríos

FORCED DUTY: PABLO PEREZ RIOS –

It was 1951 when the flash of a camera captured my cousin’s hard expression. His name is Pablo Pérez Ríos and in this picture he is sitting at the bottom of Pork Chop Hill, the site of a very famous battle with the Chinese during the Korean conflict where Puerto Rican troops figured prominently in its conquest. Though there are conflicting stories as to how the hill got its name, he told me that they named it Pork Chop Hill because Puerto Ricans love pork chops!

He had just turned twenty-years-old when he was drafted. He doesn’t remember in what regiment he served but at the time there was a very famous one called the Borinqueneers. They were the US Army’s only all-Puerto Rican unit who proved themselves top combat soldiers. So much so, it was recently recommended for the Congressional Gold Medal.

Some soldiers volunteered for the army, but many young men from Puerto Rico like Pablo, as a colony of the US, were subject to the Draft even though they were not considered full US citizens. This was also a time when regiments were racially segregated. Puerto Ricans were classified as “black” by the military and so encountered the same discrimination. There are also many stories of battles that turned disastrous because the officers directing the battle did not speak Spanish and could not communicate with the Puerto Rican soldiers.

After they enrolled him, they put him through a series of physical tests and then had combat training for twelve weeks. He boarded a ship and traveled to the other side of the world. He said, the ship carried five thousand Puerto Rican soldiers. First they stopped at Panama and got a few shots and instructions. Then they stopped in Japan and got equipment. He got shots there too. He says that he got over twenty shots to prevent many diseases from the countries he visited. After twenty days of traveling he arrived in Seoul, South Korea.

Pablo could only sleep a few hours during the day because almost all combat took place at night. He saw death as an escape from his horrible present. The enemy would attack three to four times a week and the soldiers had to always be alert. They ate good food. There was a Puerto Rican cook crew. They gave the soldiers coffee in the morning and then coffee with bread and rice and beans in the evenings.

One big tragedy that Pablo endured was the loss of his friend, Dario. He was his dirt hole partner, who died because of a gunshot. Pablo also got hurt but not so seriously. It was the shrapnel from the grenades that scarred him. However, the story goes that he didn’t even notice he had been wounded until he took his uniform off that day.

When the cold breeze of winter covered Korea, the soldiers were nearly freezing. Sleeping in a dirt hole wasn’t cozy enough. Many soldiers lost toes because of frostbite and gangrene and had to be amputated. When the sergeant saw what was happening he ordered them to change the leather boots for rubber boots so the soldiers’ toes would remain warm.

Angelica was Pablo’s girlfriend at the time and sent him many letters. Pablo’s parents were always so busy working to pay bills, they only wrote once a month. Reading letters from his love was the only thing that kept him sane, he said. Pablo would send his whole military paycheck to his mother, which paid tuition to college for both of his sisters. Later they became teachers.

This war lasted three years until they finally signed a peace agreement.  Pablo was in the war for fourteen months and then finally returned home. Pablo was really affected by all he lived and saw in war. He still has nightmares and cannot sleep at night. He has to use sleeping pills to rest. It was very interesting for me finding out that one of my family members participated in such an important military conflict that will live forever in the history of humanity. Pablo is now eighty-years-old. When he saw this picture of himself, which he had not seen in more than fifty years, his eyes filled up with tears.  I imagine his mind filled up with painful memories that lie in his mouth yet untold.

To read more about the Borinqueneers – click here.

 

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

  1. There something strange in your story. The 65Th. was part of the Third División. The Third División not fought in the Pork Chop Hill campaign. The 31Th. Regiment of the Seven División was the regiment who attack and gain the Hill.

    • Jaime – thanks for your info. The problem is that when doing remembered stories the information may not always be accurate – especially in the memory of an 80 year old man. I will contact the writer as Pablo has passed away and we won’t be able to ask him to verify the information. Based on research though we will make necessary changes to try to make it as accurate as possible. Thank you for your comment. We really appreciate it.

  2. Very proud of them, sad that some will never know what has happen, but I’m convinced that God has awarded them the most precious medal, eternal life.

  3. Sad story. The same thing happened with my grandfather when he remembered that a few of his close friends died during the korean war. My grandfather was lucky although he received combat training he was assigned kitchen duty so i guess he didn’t get that much action. Still he must have had a close encounter because he woke up at night screaming the names of dead friends. Worse he didn’t want to tell anyone the things he lived while he was on Korea.

  4. This is a great story about your cousin. This story have strong messages that are good for the people. War doesnt do anything good but making people life miserable. The fact that your cousin stil having nightmares is so frustating even for me and I wasnt in that situation. I am really glad that he got away from there alive and in one piece. Is a story with so many details that made think about how we are living.

  5. This Story is very strong with emotions; it must have been very hard for your cousin to experience all those events in his life. A war is something so difficult to overcome, seeing all those people that are your peers in this battle die just because there defending a cause that is not theirs, they were obligated to handle and fight for. Something that changed completely his life, he could not see his girlfriend or family. He had to pass the terrible news of the death of his friend Dario his partner. Those are things that are very hard to live and to come one day to your house again after 14 months and act normal it must have been terrible sleeping at night with all those flashback memories most likely called nightmares of the story he lived in that battle. Thank You very much for sharing this story. It makes me appreciate what I have in my home , and also makes me admire more the people that sacrifice towards having a military life. Your cousin lived a sad past , but he is sure made it through living his present.

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