Skip to main content

Reginald B. Desiderio Korean War correspondence

 Collection — Box: Korea 8, Folder: 6-7, Folder: 1-2
Identifier: 2021-076-w-r

Content Description

This collection contains 26 letters from Capt. Reginald B. Desiderio, USA to his wife Patricia Jean "Pattie" Desiderio before his death in combat during the Korean War. Capt. Desiderio was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on November 27, 1950.

The letter collection has some correspondence missing, as noted in some letters mentioning "last nite's letter" where one with that date is not included here. Running themes throughout the letters are the weather, particularly the cold, rain, wind, and eventually snow and extreme freezing conditions, as well as a frequent expectation of being sent home and the war ending "soon." That sentiment ceases as he reaches further north and the Chinese military engages in November, changing the tide of the war, and he begins engaging in real fighting, hearing of mass casualties in other engagements, and learning he will be there much longer.

The first letter dated October 1 describes Desiderio's landing at Pusan harbor, loading into trucks and then trains for division command at Masan, also describing the people and poverty he witnessed during the journey. Also mentioned are a Captain Pugh, with whom he served in 1st Battalion, 15th Regiment previously, and Lieutenant Colonel George R. Cole who is also assigned to this division. His next letter dated October 3 mentions being in Masan and sent home 100 won note (Korean currency) and a propaganda leaflet dropped to the Korean people informing them the United Nations was coming (written in Korean).

On October 5, he travelled by truck to Chinju (Jinju) and by Jeep to Nuwon [sic], a residential district of Seoul. Along the way they forded rivers and dodged land mines left by the North Korean People's Army as they retreated, to whom he refers as "Ko-Reds." His unit then moved back south to Taejon. He mentions his new unit, the 25th Infantry Division being mentioned in the news, particularly his Colonel John "Iron Mike" Michaelis, by a famed correspondent Marguerite Higgins (K. Higgins in his letter) for the New York Herald Tribune.

On October 7 (written "Sept."), Desiderio reached Poun, awaiting joining a battalion.
...don't worry too much about me as I will be alright. Most of the fight is gone from the North Koreans and they surrender quickly and have very little in the way of weapons.
October 9: description of work he is doing with roadblocks and patrols, trying to block the enemy withdrawal back to the 38th parallel, taking them alive if possible. This begins a few letters in which he gives "box scores" of how many enemies captured or killed.

Letter dated October 11 is actually October 9 (as described in the next letter). He gives box score and mentions Koreans not wearing uniforms to slip past American patrols; 6000 to the south that are trying to get to the north; "This type of warfare is not good." He also mentions that he personally questions prisoners. On October 10, he tells Pattie that H Company was ambushed and sustained heavy casualties. They shifted positions and are fighting the remains of the 4th, 6th, and 7th North Korean Divisions. A shift in his tone leads him to say, "Don't like this one bit."

Letter dated "October ?": left Kwang-ni [sic], heading to Chungu (Chungju); attacked a village on the way suspected of harboring enemy soldiers.

October 21, written in Um-Song, 35 miles north of Chongju, to relieve Fox Company. He mentions a situation in which he had to arrest a black soldier who murdered an ROK soldier (Republic of Korea). He lists his unit's strength as 103 ROK's, 100 GI's, and 3 "negroes." Of the situation, he said the Korean soldier threw something at the other man and that the "colored boy picked up the gun and shot him through the heart, killing him. Never a dull moment dear." He went on to say, "Darling war news looks good today - It should all be over in a week and I hope we are shipped back to Japan." In his next letter, dated October 24, he mentions American soldiers "rough" treatment of Koreans, because they are armed and can get away with it, but he "won't tolerate thiings of that sort" and had a meeting on the subject.

October 25, mentions moving to Chilsongan [sic], a town near Kaeson [sic]. October 26 note says he is moving around inspecting roadblocks and October 27 letter mentions that this new area is more active than before, but he still thinks he's going back to Japan soon. Included is an article about a pilot that spent his three-day pass with the 27th to learn about the infantry, with a short piece on how they lost their beer truck.

On November 2, Desiderio assures Pattie that he will be fine as he moves north of the 38th parallel.
In fact, I don't even believe we will be in the fight in any way or we will be doing the same job as we are doing here.
November 3 in Chongju awaiting departure for Seoul and then further north, he laments about the cold and how it should snow soon, following up in the next letter that they got snow, are wet and cold, in Seoul and To-song-ni [sic] and the colonel said they would probably "go in the line in a few days" up north.

November 5: this is the first letter in which Desiderio is no longer optimistic about returning to Japan or the war ending. He mentions being alerted to 60,000 Chinese Communist troops south of the Yalu river and heavy casualties for the 1st Cavalry and 24th Division. This may be in reference to the Battle of Unsan (which was actually the 8th Cavalry). With casualties to the 24th, there are rumors that the 27th will be their relief; they cut to two meals per day and he begins reading his prayer book daily.

November 6: "What now? ...If this situation had not come up we would of [sic] left Korea for japan to-morrow, the 7th of November - rough luck dear."

November 7, received letters from 9-12 October, moving north to Ichon [sic] (Inchon?) which is a hot spot with recent ambush and heavy casualties; all wires to his outposts have been cut by "Reds" that set up roadblocks and spotting positions in civilian clothing during the day and hit and runs at night.
Am wondering what the future holds, do we fight the Chinese or what? You will know by the time you receive this my darling.
On November 8 they moved into the hills and then the town of Sibyonni and writes a love note. The next letter, November 9, he describes their shelling of likely assembly areas, mentioning that leading elements, units further north, have not contacted anything in days.

November 14, frigid cold (four below zero), but happy to hear of Chinese Communist Delegation flying to US to appear before the UN:
I was out in the hills today dear and its punishing. I have 3 platoons out for 24 hours a day and (my) heart bleeds for them...Maybe the lord will hear our prayers and end this mess and return me to your arms where I belong my darling.
November 17 includes a list of officers in the company, including Captain Baylis, 1stLt. Boyd, 1stLt. Sims, 1stLt. Schultz, 1stLt. Burch, 2ndLt. Finnigan, 1stLt.Otomo, and 1stLt. Evans, plus the CO and XO; he mentions that this is nine but there should only be six. He then makes a comment for which he apologizes in the next letter, hoping he did not sound angry:
Resent your remark (innocent I know but) "glad you are in the rear." Honey we sit with estimated 20,000-30,000 enemy around us at present time, I haven't told you what we are doing dear as I did not want to worry you but don't want you to think I sit dry and have butter and cake. We do our share and when I return or it's over will tell you about it dear.
November 18: morale at a new low, left Sibyonni for Kumchon [sic]; cold and wet.

November 19: leaving for Sinanju [sic] where it is reportedly 20 degrees below zero. A sergeant told him that all the men in the company like him. Their company may have been on the radio news as they repulsed an enemy attack of 400 guerillas at Sibyonni a few days prior.

November 21: 3rd Battalion recommended him for an award; not sure which one (he earned the Silver and Bronze Stars before the actions that caused his death). He had saved the lives of about 40 men when he brought together some men from the company to "run off" an ambush.

November 23: last letter received by his family. He doesn't want to say much to worry Pattie. At this point he is now attached to Task Force Dolvin, which includes two infantry companies and two tanks, according to Desiderio.

Dates

  • 1950 October 1 - November 23

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

There are no restrictions on the use of this material except where previously copyrighted material is concerned. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain all permissions.

Biographical / Historical

Captain Reginald Benjamin "Reggie" Desiderio, United States Army (9/12/1919 - 11/27/1950) was born in Clairton, Pennsylvania to Angeline DeChicchio and James Vincent Desiderio. He married Patricia Jean "Pattie" Harp in 1937 and moved to Gilroy, California where they had two children, David A. and Timothy James Desiderio.

Desiderio served in the US Army and had attained the rank of Captain when he deployed first to Japan and then to the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula in September 1950. He arrived in Pusan (Busan) on October 1, 1950 with a replacement depot awaiting orders before eventually being assigned as company commander for E Company, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. The 27th Inf. Reg. is known as the "Wolfhounds" with a distinguished combat history with five Medal of Honor recipients during the Korean War alone (two from E Company, including Desiderio), and the 25th Inf. Div. is known as the "Tropic Lightning."

His unit saw some action as they moved north and were assigned in November to Task Force Dolvin, named for Lieutenant Colonel Welborn G. "Tom" Dolvin, United States Army who was a combat veteran of the Second World War and leader of the task force. Two task forces were formed, one early in the United Nations campaign in Korea and one in November to which Desiderio was assigned. The latter was comprised of several units and was an attempt to push the Chinese and Korean forces back to the Yalu River, the border of North Korea and China, in freezing cold conditions and a growing Chinese military presence.

On November 27, 1950, Capt. Desiderio was killed in action in Ipsok, North Korea during a solo charge against the enemy that allowed his unit to repel a large attack. For his actions he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in August 1951, a ceremony for which was held at the Pentagon where his widow and sons were saluted by General Omar Bradley. His previous actions had earned him the Silver Star and Bronze Star, and his wounds sustained on November 27 also earned him a Purple Heart. His Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:

Capt. Desiderio distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the repeated risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. His company was given the mission of defending the command post of a task force against an enemy breakthrough. After personal reconnaissance during darkness and under intense enemy fire, he placed his men in defensive positions to repel an attack. Early in the action he was wounded, but refused evacuation and despite enemy fire continued to move among his men checking their positions and making sure that each element was prepared to receive the next attack. Again wounded, he continued to direct his men. By his inspiring leadership he encouraged them to hold their position. In the subsequent fighting when the fanatical enemy succeeded in penetrating the position, he personally charged them with carbine, rifle, and grenades, inflicting many casualties until he himself was mortally wounded. His men, spurred on by his intrepid example, repelled this final attack. Capt. Desiderio's heroic leadership, courageous and loyal devotion to duty, and his complete disregard for personal safety reflect the highest honor on him and are in keeping with the esteemed traditions of the U.S. Army. (Congressional Medal of Honor Society)


Capt. Desiderio is interred at San Francisco National Cemetery and there is an airfield in South Korea and a US Army Reserve Center named for him in Pasadena, California. The center has since been torn down, and the park in its place was also named for him. The park is a few blocks away from his family's home, per the address on the envelopes sent to Patricia in this collection.

Extent

0.1 Linear Feet (2 folders)

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

This collection contains the last 26 letters from Capt. Reginald B. Desiderio, USA to his wife before his death in combat during the Korean War. Capt. Desiderio was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on November 27, 1950.

Arrangement

This collection is arranged in chronological order.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of David A. Desiderio
Title
Finding Aid for the Reginald B. Desiderio Korean War correspondence
Status
Completed
Author
Andrew Harman
Date
6/9/2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Repository Details

Part of the Center for American War Letters Archives Repository

Contact:
Leatherby Libraries
Chapman University
Orange CA 92866 United States