In the year 1952, Prisco “Pete” DeAngelis left home at 19 years old.
He lived at 700 Henry Street down in Red Hook with his parents, five sisters and one brother when he enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Korean War along with four friends.
“To tell you the truth, I got the draft notice when I was already in,” DeAngelis said. “We already knew we were going to get drafted.”
Following his enlistment, he went through 14 weeks of basic training.
“Training toughened us up,” DeAngelis said. “They taught us about survival and how to react to being lost.”
Afterwards, he got two weeks of leave before flying off to Kentucky and then to California. There, DeAngelis boarded the USS General J.C. Breckinridge with at least 2,000 others. The troopship arrived in Korea 11 days later.
“When we got to Korea,” DeAngelis said, “they issued us a whole new set of uniforms and weapons. We must have stayed in the headquarters for about two weeks before they shipped us to the front line.”
He was with the 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.
“We were all new guys, didn’t know what was going on,” DeAngelis recalled. “We only knew the enemy was on the other hill, and we fired back and forth.”
“I just prayed that I’d come through it,” he added.
However, he said his team only went into battle about six times.
“The Air Force took care of everything with the bombings,” DeAngelis said.
The only time DeAngelis saw hand-to-hand combat was when he went on combat patrol. A bullet hit his chest and another cracked his helmet. He said it wasn’t serious as he recovered in two weeks, and was right back on the front lines.
However, many of his fellow soldiers did not have such luck. About 40 people on his team died and only seven people remained. Thus, DeAngelis got promoted to a sergeant after six months in the Army. New men also joined the team.
Shortly afterwards, he took a British ship over to Tokyo with other soldiers as part of his rest and recuperation, a break from combat.
“I won’t forget that ship because it used to squeak,” DeAngelis said, “especially when we were sleeping.”
He recalled going to a “little office” where he was advised what to do and where to meet, and told to come back in seven days. He also received a new uniform to wear.
“We behaved like gentlemen,” DeAngelis said. “I would love to go back because I see movies of how Tokyo is. There were big buildings there when I went but not as many. It has really developed.”
In the winter, the troops received parkas and boots. DeAngelis said he got frostbite due to the low temperatures of “0 to 5 degrees.
“It was always wet, always damp,” he said. “In the summer, it rained every day and in the winter, it snowed every day.”
In addition, DeAngelis recalled, Seoul was not a big city during the war.
“But now, when you go to Seoul, it’s bigger than New York City,” he said.
Whenever the troops moved from town to town, they had to be very careful of people with machine guns, DeAngelis remembered.
“Most of the civilians loved us but we had to be very careful,” he said.
Even so, he did not feel any stress or pressure because everybody gathered and talked. Some played the banjo while others listened to music on the radio.
“You just amuse yourself with the music and calm yourselves,” DeAngelis said. “When you get used to it, it becomes a joke.”
Plus, his family and he wrote back and forth to each other. Not only that, but his family sent him packages too. He usually received pepperoni, provolone cheese, fruit cake, some candy and cookies, he said — “Stuff that wouldn’t perish. But once you open it, they’re going to be all gone.”
In 1954, a year and a month after his enlistment, DeAngelis was discharged at Monterey, California. He received a Korean War medal, which he placed “in a box somewhere,” from the government of Korea.
“Everybody gets these medals,” he said. “I didn’t get anything that was really spectacular.”
the Army gave him the fare for a plane ticket home and a whole new set of clothing.
“And that was it. You couldn’t take anything with you, no souvenirs,” he said.
However, he chose to stay with his aunt, who lived there, for a month before going home to look for a job. He worked in a factory that made electrical parts and did some carpentry work with relatives. Then he finished high school, later getting a job at The Daily News.
Afterwards, DeAngelis married, and he and his wife had two children. He became the president of the United Military Veterans of Kings County, which sponsors the borough’s Memorial Day Parade, six years ago.
“I think I lived a normal life,” he said. “Thank God for that. Not everybody gets a chance at that.”