Frank R Moccio
Name: Frank R Moccio
Date of Birth: July 5, 1930
Place of Birth: Melrose Park, IL
Dates of Service: 1951 – 1953
Branch: US Army
Prisoner of War: No
Today is March 17, 2008. This is Fidencio Marbella of the Melrose Park, Illinois Public Library. Also present is Heidi Beazley, Reference Librarian here at Melrose Park. Today we’ll be speaking with Mr. Frank Moccio. Frank served in the United States Army from 1951 through 1953. The highest rank he achieved was as a corporal and he was born here in Melrose Park on July 5, 1930. Let’s go ahead and get started. Frank, why don’t you tell us when and where you were born and a little about your parents.
My name is Frank Moccio. I was born in Melrose Park on July 5, 1930 to Frank and Fortunata Moccio. I grew up in Melrose Park. I went to grammar school at Stevenson School in Melrose Park and following that I went to Proviso East High School from 1944 to ’48. After high school, I worked at various places and following that I got drafted in about June of 1951. I did my basic training in Camp Chaffee, Arkansas ‘til the end of 1951. I got orders to report to Alaska as a construction engineer. While there in Alaska I traveled all over parts of Alaska building components, mess halls, living quarters and at that time there was the scare of the Cold War that the Russians were going to invade so we were on alert most of the time while I was there. While I was there in August of 1952, my brother Raymond, who was in Korea, I was notified he was killed in action. I received an emergency furlough. I came home for thirty days to comfort my mother and father. Following that I reported back to Alaska and I stayed in Alaska ‘til 1953. I returned to the states to Camp Carson, Colorado and I was discharged. That’s about the extent of my military service.
Let’s go back a little bit. Can you tell us a little bit about your parents? What they did for a living?
My parents were immigrants from Europe, Italian. My father was a factory worker. My mother was a homemaker, housewife. I had, my family consisted of my older brother James who was handicapped, my sister Elizabeth who’s still living, myself, and my brother Raymond. We lived in Melrose Park all our lives and I can’t think of anything else.
Where did your father work?
He worked at the Richardson Company in Melrose Park which was on 27th and Lake Street. 27th and Lake in Melrose Park and he retired from there. After he retired he was a gardener. He was a winemaker.
He made wine at your house?
Like most people in Melrose Park did. We always had wine on the table and none of us became alcoholics! In 1974 my father asked me if I wanted to take a trip back to Italy with him to see his family, surviving family. I was honored that he asked me. So we took a trip in 1974and we went to Italy for about six weeks. He had a brother over there and three sisters and numerous nephews and nieces. That was one of the highlights of my life. I was married at the time to Dorothy and I had two children at that time. I went to Italy with him and we stayed with his relatives and it was the highlight of my life as I have said. I got to meet relatives that I never knew and I learned how people lived away from the United States, which is a lot different. I always appreciated the fact that my parents came to America and they were proud to be Americans. Every George Washington’s birthday my father bought a cherry pie and he always said “God Bless America!” But he still loved his country and he loved his family. A lot of those things that he told me when I was growing up I remembered. That’s about it. My father died in ’81 and my mother died in 1984 and my brother James died in 1981 and as I said, Raymond was killed in 1952.
You were drafted in 1951 into the US Army. Can you tell us what the reactions were like of your parents when they found out you had been drafted?
Well they were, my mother was sad knowing that I was going away and I might be in danger and that’s about all I can remember, my mother crying because she knows that you could be in a lot of danger. I was gone at that time when my brother got drafted just about three or four months later. So we were both in the service at the same time. I was in basic training, like I said, in Arkansas and he was at Fort Riley. The Christmas of 1951 we both received furloughs, ten day furloughs for Christmas and we were both home at the same time. While we were home we enjoyed each other’s company and we enjoyed being with our parents and that was the Christmas of 1951. We stayed home until New Year’s Day of 1952. I had an extra day off to report and he had to report the day before. I left with him and we took a train. I left a day earlier to be with him and we took the train in Chicago. We went to Kansas City, which was right near Fort Riley. From there I was going to continue on to Arkansas. Before we left, my mother made a care package which was food for us to take back with us. She gave us both a shopping bag all goodies. And then we took it on the train. We got on the train and I told my brother it’s kind of warm on the train Ray. Let’s put them between the two cars because it’s cooler there. He said yeah, you’re right. So we put the two shopping bags full of food between the two trains. We got to Kansas City. We got off the train and we left our food on the train! The train took off, departed and I’m sitting there with him because I had about an hour or two layover ‘til I caught my train to Arkansas and I said Ray, guess what? He said what happened? I said we left our food on the train! We hung our heads and I said, well someone’s going to have a nice meal. So that’s the last time I saw my brother when I hugged him and said goodbye in the train station when my train was ready to depart. Like I said, that’s the last time I saw him, besides letters back and forth before he was killed. That’s about it.
Can you tell us about the circumstances under which he was killed in Korea?
He was trained as a cook at Fort Riley, Kansas and once he got shipped overseas, the army did that. You were trained as an infantryman through basic training. Then you went to specialized school in whatever they wanted you to do. He became a cook, but once he got shipped to Korea, they were in need of infantrymen and they put him in an infantry outfit, which means he was trained for that and when he got to Korea he got in this infantry outfit and he was sent to the front lines and as far as I could tell from information that I got while he was on the frontlines they were bombarded with shells, mortar shells and while these bombs were coming in he jumped into a foxhole and he got a direct hit with a mortar shell. He didn’t die immediately but he never made it too far. He died pretty fast. The reason why I got more information on that was because after about fifty years in 2001 I was contacted by a Mr. Doug Noyes from Genoa City in Illinois. He called me up and he told me that his father was with my brother when he got killed. It was a real surprise because I never heard of this gentleman and I was a little leery. He asked if he could come over and he did. He came over with his wife and he showed me pictures of my brother and his father. They were both in the same frontlines the day my brother got killed. His father and my brother were together and his father was a basketball player and my brother was a star basketball player at Proviso, at Proviso High School. They became very good friends and his father told his son Doug. He said he always remembered my brother because when the bombs, when the mortar shells were coming in he jumped into one foxhole and my brother jumped into another foxhole. He said the mortar shell hit my brother’s foxhole and he got killed. He always wondered why he was saved. He never, he didn’t have the courage to come and contact us while he was living, this Mr. Noyes. But his son always heard about my brother and he said I have to get a hold of you and tell you what happened. He said his father just didn’t have the nerve to do it. I thought that was very nice and I appreciated it and I thanked him and we remain good friends to this day.
Would you like to take a break?
You mentioned that you had done your basic training at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas?
Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.
Now what was that like, your basic training?
Basic training was familiarizing yourself with a lot of marching, a lot of physical . . .
Physical training. They called it the daily dozen. You did these calisthenics, push-ups and chin-ups and stuff like that every day, every morning and then we went on a lot of marches. A lot of marches. This was a form of training, building your stamina up. And then we would go through different forms of familiarizing yourself with firearms. We would go through the firing range with the M-1 rifles. Then we would have carbine rifles and then they would have a training to simulate crawling through, while they were firing over your heads to simulate combat. That was all part of your basic training. Part of my basic training was in the artillery. I had the 105 [mm] Howitzers. We were trained in the firing and familiarizing ourselves with the 105 Howitzers which were hauled by army trucks to different sites. We would get on these ranges and we would fire the howitzers. To this day I think my hearing is affected by that. I’m hard of hearing. I don’t know if that’s from old age or what but I always did have a problem with hearing because of these howitzers going off. I’ve been tested quite a few times and I fail the test every time. My wife gets mad that I can’t hear! I told you I repeat everything. I’m tired of repeating. I said, well you can’t see too good so maybe I should holler at you. And then I get a phone call from Walgreen’s or somebody. Mr. Moccio? Yes. We have a prescription blah blah blah! I say, what did you say? Your prescription’s ready blah blah blah! And blah blah blah! I say will you please speak a little quieter? A little softer? I don’t understand what you’re saying! And they all get mad at you! But I think the young kids all talk pretty fast, don’t they?
You experience that too?
Yes. How did you end up being in construction?
Well I was, before I got drafted I worked at a plant in Melrose Park here. I was an apprentice pipefitter and welder. So when I got drafted you had to put down your occupation and that’s what I put down. After basic training they gave me an MOS, which was your mode of trade. They classified me as a plumber. After basic training I was shipped to Alaska because they needed tradesmen. I guess that’s what saved me from going to a war zone. They considered Alaska a war zone at that time. We were getting overseas pay and like I said previously they thought the Russians at that time, the Russians and the Cold War we were battling with them. During the Second World War, the Japanese did try to make inroads into Alaska. I think there was, they did land in parts of Alaska. You remember that?
Yes, it was what, Attu and Kiska?
The Aleutian Islands.
Yes the Aleutian Islands.
They still considered that too close to, if you look at Alaska, it’s close to Japan and Russia so they were taking precautions. Being a tradesman I got shipped there and my company, my battalion, 42nd Engineer Construction Battalion, were all tradesmen. We had electricians. We had carpenters. We had plumbers. We had, you name it, we were capable of building just about anything you could imagine. I was at Fort Richardson, Alaska, which is just outside of Anchorage. That was where I was stationed. While in Alaska I traveled all over. I traveled to Fairbanks. I traveled to Whittier. I traveled to just about any place in Alaska where they required building. We built mess halls. We built Quonset huts for living quarters. We built latrine areas. Whatever was required we were sent there. Every so often in Alaska they would have an alert. Being a tradesman we would revert back to our weapons and we would go out in the field and they would simulate an attack by a foreign country. We’d go out there for maybe a week, ten days and they kept you in training all the time. Like I said, the time I was there, being a tradesman wasn’t bad duty. It was good duty.
What was the weather like for you up there?
The summers were hot, like July and August it would get into the seventies and eighties, you know, real hot, but the summers were short and then they would have like certain times of the year it would get dark. It would stay dark for night and day. It would never lighten up. When winter hit, which was nine, tenth months of the year, being in a valley at Fort Richardson, we would get temperatures of maybe twenty-five, thirty below. That wasn’t too bad because up in Fairbanks, further north and the areas around most of Alaska, it would get to forty or fifty below during the winter.
When it got that cold, were you still trying to build buildings at that time?
Yeah, we would keep working.
How would you construct a building in that kind of temperature?
They would encompass an area with plastic. The area where buildings we were building they would encompass and try to keep some heat in there. As far as putting anything below ground, it was almost impossible. We would lay, if we had to lay a pipeline, a water line or a sewer line to a certain area we would lay straw on there, light it up with fuel oil, put wood on it and try to thaw out the ground. That would thaw it out for maybe six or eight inches and we’d dig that down. We’d keep doing that until you got, you’ve got to understand, Alaska never really thaws out. It always has what they call permafrost, below the ground is always frozen. I don’t know how it is today with warming, it might be different now. It’s always like that. Alaska, if you don’t have the mental capacity, you could get very depressed, you know what I mean?
How did you keep from getting depressed out there with no sunlight?
Well they had beer! We had movies and we had recreation, no women so that wasn’t too much fun! She’s nodding. We had movies, we had the USO canteens there and Anchorage, which was only a short distance away from Fort Richardson, was a modern town, big buildings and all that. I would say Anchorage was the size of Oak Park, Illinois, with a main throroughfare. I even looked today and now they’ve got high rises there and all that. There were things to do. You went to town and you just, I don’t know how to explain it. You had your buddies, that was the main thing, you had fun. You found things to do to enjoy yourself. We played cards and you did this, you did that. I can’t even remember half of the stuff that we did. We had a chapel, a religious chapel, not too far from our battalion. I was in Company A, which was almost all construction. They had Company A, B, C, D and some were transportation and headquarters company but I was in Company A. Like I said, we had plumbers, carpenters and electricians and a lot of laborers. If you weren’t a tradesman, you were a laborer. They did the bulk of the work.
You mentioned going all over Alaska at some point. How did you get around? By truck?
There was a train that went from Seward all the way to Anchorage and up to Fairbanks. There was a train. While I was there they built the ALCAN Highway. Did you ever hear of the ALCAN Highway?
It was a highway that left from Seattle all the way through Canada and up into Alaska. They built that, part of the Army built that. Now I heard they’ve improved it. It was a gravel road and now I’ve heard they improved it. Just like they’re doing a lot of things in Alaska now. They’ve got the oil pipeline and all that stuff. When I left Seattle to go to Alaska, we went by ship.
What was that like?
What was it like? Well most of the guys were hanging over the railing vomiting!
Had you ever been on a big ship like that before?
No, it was the first time. Most of the guys got sick. Once we got out of Seattle, Puget Sound, with the waves. We ended up going to Whittier, Alaska, which was a port and from there we were shipped to different parts.
How long were you actually in Alaska?
I was there about a year and a half. I would say just about a year and a half.
Did you have any opportunities for taking leave?
Well, as I told you previously the only time I came home was an emergency furlough because of my brother and that was it.
All the rest of the time you had to spend in Alaska?
Where were you when you found out you were going to be discharged from the Army?
My time was up after twenty-three months and they sent me back to Camp Carson, Colorado. I got discharged from Camp Carson, Colorado. I was inducted into service and I went to Fort Sheridan, Illinois. Fort Sheridan is not there anymore. It was a distribution point for GIs but I got discharged from Camp Carson, Colorado. I got separated from the service.
What was your reaction like when you found out you were finally getting out of the Army?
Joy! I was happy but I was sad because of my brother. But I was happy because I was not a career guy.
Did they ask you?
At that time they were asking you to re-enlist but I didn’t want anything to do with it. I just wanted to get out and get myself a job. At that time they had the GI Bill and I could have went to school and I did go to school. I enrolled as an apprentice, although I was classified as a plumber in the service, I decided to go work for a plumber and he sent me to apprentice school. That’s what I ended up doing, going to apprentice school. I became an apprentice and went to Washburn Trade School. I graduated from there. I learned the finer technical points of my trade.
Once you got out of the army, did you have any problems readjusting to civilian life?
No not really. The only thing was I came home when I got discharged and I hadn’t seen some of my friends and some of the people that I knew and they asked me where I was. I said I was in the service. I was in the army. Yeah? What’s going on? Korea was like a forgotten war. You’ve got to understand the Second World War was the big war. Everybody knew about that but Korea it seemed like nobody even knew what was going on. Guys were getting killed there; fifty some thousand GIs got killed in Korea. I heard that many times. Where were you Frank? I was in the service. I just got discharged. Yeah? What’s going on? Nothing! Everything was okay. A lot of people didn’t like the idea that we were in Korea. It was a war of fighting the communists at that time. Just like Vietnam. With Vietnam a lot of hatred with Vietnam. But that’s why we’re all here and we’re enjoying this country; the freedom that we have.
Thanks you very much for sharing your memories with us today.