Courtesy of Denis Forde
Originally published on TheWildGeese.com July, 2006
QUEENS, N.Y. – In November 1948, at age 20, Denis Forde found himself crossing the Atlantic with two other fellows from the village of Rockchapel in Cork. Forde was drafted into the U.S. Army 20 months after his arrival and shipped to Korea, and so was Maurice Angland, one of his Rockchapel traveling companions. Unlike Forde, Angland never returned from the three-year war there, dying of wounds received in combat Oct. 4, 1951.
"He went to Chicago, and I went to New York," recalled Forde, 78, in a phone interview from his Whitestone, Queens, residence. A week earlier, he and other Irish-born GIs who served in the Korean War erected a monument in nearby Brooklyn to Angland and 27 others who died during the conflict.
Rockchapel parish included less than 1,000 residents then, Forde said, and he knew Angland back home, but they were not chums, each attending a different one of the parish's two schools. "He was a very, very quiet guy, a real nice guy. His sister was over ahead of him, I believe. In Chicago. ... He had a tendency to be skinny. He was as big as me. 5-foot-8."
Asked why he left Ireland, Forde replied: "I have no idea. I just got itchy and just decided to come here."
Forde, unlike Angland, arrived here as an American citizen. Forde's father, Daniel, lived in the United States for a time, and became a naturalized citizen. Daniel served in New York's "Fighting 69th" regiment during World War I, where he was wounded. His father moved back to Ireland. "He had 100% disability (when he returned from overseas duty)," Forde said. "He was shot up." Returning to Rockchapel, Forde's father operated a small farm, aided by Forde's mother, himself, and four brothers, two stepbrothers and two stepsisters. "I was the only one who came (to America)." Forde said.
After he and Angland took their leave upon docking in Manhattan, Forde said, he didn't keep in touch with Angland, and never saw him again. "He went off to Chicago. When I came back (from Korea), I heard that he died from friends, that he was buried in Ireland. It was not good news to hear."
Forde served in the Army's 1st Field Artillery Observation Battalion, rising to the rank of sergeant. "I gave 11 months and eight days in the front lines. I was a forward observer, so I was actually in front of the infantry. I was planning targets, calling in artillery shots. I had to set-up shots in front (of the enemy's lines, often as close as a quarter mile), in high ground. Dug in, everybody had to dig in." He was awarded a Bronze Star for his efforts, which led to the destruction of more than 50 enemy supply vehicles.
Forde, unlike his landsman Angland, was never wounded, though he almost got hit by shrapnel. "(The enemy spotters) were doing the same thing we were. If you lit a cigarette ... I'm sure everybody was smoking then in those days. If they made a mistake like that, we'd recognize that. I had several close calls (with death), but it didn't mean nothing to me. I just kept on going.""I could see them," Forde recalled. "I could see them at night, their trucks, moving at night. In Korea, all the fighting was done at night mostly." On his first night in Korea, he said, his unit lost 105 of 165 men in hand-to-hand combat during an attack by the North Korean army. "I did not know what was going on," he said, but fought for his life, killing a number of the enemy. He later transferred to field artillery.
The starkness of Korea's terrain has stayed with him these 50-plus years. "Korea was a funny place, a destitute country, very poor. At that time, it was desperate. And a lot of hills. And very cold in the winter and hot in the summer."
Despite the harshness of Korea's landscape and immense poverty, Forde said he rarely, if ever, found himself nostalgic for home, for Ireland. "We were too busy fighting, to do what you had to do."
After the war, he worked for United Parcel Service and local utility Con Edison, in construction, and other jobs. In 1957, he joined the New York Police Department, where he served 22 years, rising to detective, and was assigned to the NYPD's Organized Crime Bureau. At 78, he still works, back in construction.
Forde, who served on the committee that supported the recent monument campaign, goes back to Cork at least once every other year, he said, and includes a visit to Clonfert Cemetery. "Every time I go back, I go to visit Maurice's grave." WG
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This feature was produced by Joe Gannon and edited by Alex Féthière.