Each of our veterans has his or her own unique story to tell about their experiences in the U.S. armed forces. We are pleased to share a few of them with you.
(Elmhurst, IL) Ed De Pasque was born in Chicago in 1930. His parents were both from Italy and had come to the United States with their families when they were children. His grandparents initially settled in Oklahoma where his grandfather worked on the railroads, but his dad eventually decided to move his family to Chicago where there was factory work. The neighborhood he grew up in was largely Italian but also had a fair number of Eastern Europeans. Ed was one of nine children although two of his siblings died while he was young. Ed was too young to fight in World War II, but both his dad and his older brother worked in defense factories in the Chicago area during that time.
After graduating from Kelly High School in Chicago, Ed was drafted and was sworn into the military in October, 1951. The recruiters asked for volunteers for the Marines but only one person out of a group of 150 stepped forward, so the recruiter had to resort to picking every third guy for the Marines. Ed wasn’t one of the three so he ended up in the Army. He was sent to Camp Chaffee in Arkansas where he learned about artillery and became a fire direction specialist.
Ed was shipped out of Seattle and he and his fellow soldiers followed tradition by dropping a silver half dollar into Puget Sound for good luck. Upon arriving in Korea he joined the 999th artillery battalion which was part of I Corps, also known as America’s Corps. His unit contained eighteen 155mm self-propelled howitzers; they would go wherever they were called upon to support Army or Marine units with artillery fire. These were powerful WWII-era artillery pieces that could fire a 95-pound shell twelve miles with a fair amount of accuracy.
For the most part the unit was stationed 3-4 miles behind the front lines but they would move to the front lines when necessary. Given the terrain and climate of Korea, these journeys were often quite treacherous. On a regular basis, they needed to use tank retrievers to help the guns get up or down icy hills or to get them out of places after they got stuck. On very cold nights they would leave one engine running so that they’d be able to get the vehicle started if called upon to move out.
After about six weeks as a cannoneer, Ed was speaking with the mess sergeant. The sergeant complained that they were having a hard time getting and keeping good replacements for kitchen duty. Ed said that he was a good cook—after all he came from a big Italian family. The mess sergeant gave him a chance to prove himself so he spent the rest of his time in the military as a cook. They prepared three meals a day for 130-150 soldiers plus a little extra for other units passing by that needed to eat.
One day they prepared breakfast for some anti-aircraft gunners who were guarding Ed’s position from atop a nearby hill. Ed learned that one of the gunners was to go home the next day. Ed was devastated when he learned that the soldier had been killed by incoming fire later that same day. In another story, he recounts some Marines decided to make a nighttime attack on a freezing cold New Year’s Eve. They asked for Ed’s unit to fire some flares that would float down over the enemy position and allow the Marines to see what they were attacking.
Unfortunately, the wind was stronger than expected and twenty minutes later the flares ended up coming down back over Ed’s position and he says it was as bright as day. Luckily, the enemy wasn’t able to use this information to attack Ed’s unit, but it was a memorable night nonetheless. Another time, a forward observer in a plane called in artillery fire but stayed a little too close to the target and was accidentally shot down when the artillery shells exploded near him. Luckily, he was able to parachute to safety and was rescued.
When the guns were stationed in the rear, the kitchen would be with them. If the guns moved up to the front, the kitchen would stay in the rear and bring food up to the front. If the guns would be staying near the front for more than a couple days, the kitchen would move up too, but Ed didn’t mind because they’d get paid an extra $45 per month if they came under enemy fire. They were often on the move, depending on where they were needed, and were able to load up and be moving in 25 minutes after getting a call.
Ed loved being a cook and was happy to keep everybody in his unit well-fed. He made sure nobody ever went hungry. He says they almost always had eggs for breakfast and he’d always make an effort to prepare them exactly as each soldier requested. The menus were developed by people higher in the chain so there wasn’t too much opportunity to be creative, but Ed would sometimes add some spices or garlic to liven things up a bit. Also his father would occasionally prepare Italian sausage and then send it to Ed in a can, which Ed would then use to make pizza for some of the guys.
After serving in Korea for one year, Ed returned to the United States via Seattle. He was a cook on the trip back; shortly before arriving they cooked 150 turkeys for the soldiers onboard to celebrate their return. He was then assigned to an Army base in Missouri where as a cook he would spend the remainder of his time in the service. Ed was discharged in July, 1953.
After leaving the service, Ed came back to Chicago and spent his career doing sheet metal and other construction work, mostly in the heating and air conditioning field. He retired from full-time work in 1996 but continued working part-time for five years after that. He’s been active in the Elmhurst American Legion for 59 years and was the commander of the organization for a time in the 1970’s.
While being best man at his friend’s wedding, he met a bridesmaid who would eventually become his wife. They married in 1955 and had two daughters, who both live near him in Elmhurst, as well as three grandchildren. Since his retirement and his wife’s death in 1990, Ed has spent a large amount of time travelling around the United States. He has been to all 50 states and has driven to all of them except Hawaii. He built a cabin in Colorado about 40 years ago, and still goes out there on a regular basis. He’s still very active and loves to hunt and fish.
Enjoy your well-deserved Honor Flight, Ed!