A Cig and a Swig: Mobster Marine Images Korea

Daddy joined the marines afer high school and, during the mid-1950s, seemingly smoked his way through several years of service in Korea.  I know little about this part of his life, besides what’s recorded in photos from that time.  Of obvious importance, however,  was my fathery’s fondness for friends, especially smoking and consuming copious amounts of alcohol with them.

So, today I bring you a visual journey through Daddy’s vice-laden tour of duty following the Korean War–along with what my father wrote on the rear of pictures.  (As you will soon see, my father was not a writer–or spelling bee champion, for that matter!)

First, a card documenting Daddy’s selective service registration in January of 1953.

Next, his miliary ID from 1956.

A badge documenting Daddy’s service overseas.

Daddy during down-time in Korea.

Daddy on the right–

Daddy smoking on the left–

Daddy thinks about home.  Notice how young he looks.

(I don’t know who these women are. Could that be my grandmother on the right?)

Daddy by his bunk.  In text from the rear of the photo, my father describes the event.

“I was caught by surprise on this one. I was reading a book and my [buddie] said, “Hey Tyce.” I looked up and he [snaped] the picture.”

Marines lived in large tents near the Imjin River.  Daddy describes the setting on the rear of the photo.

“Taken from our tent area. That sort of white line in the middle of the picture are amphibious tractors going up the Imjin River. Note the mountains in the background. They are much higher than that The clouds are hiding most of the mountains. That big white spot is our football field.”

Daddy images “Life in Korea.”

A cig and a swig!

“Life in Korea”  1954

Daddy on duty.

Daddy poses with assorted buddies.

“Billy Farris and me” (Daddy on the right)

Daddy on the right–

Daddy’s (right) rarely on the fence–

Daddy kneeling on the right–

“[This is] the guys that live in my tent. I”m the first one on the right [knelling].”

Daddy standing in the center–

My father managed to photo the “local” bookie.

He wrote on the rear of this image.

“The local book

In 1954 my father visited Japan on R & R.

My father’s friend “Baldwin” is on the left, Daddy on the right.

“Baldwin & me
Kyoto Japan
Nov. 54″

Ron, Daddy, Moose, Slim (left to right)

“Kyoto Japan Nov. 12, 1954
Ron, me, Moose, and Slim”

Before he left Daddy photographed local Korean women washing food in a creek.

“Korean women washing food in a creek.”

When my father returned to the US in 1956, he remained at Camp Le Jeune, North Carolina.  One of his high school buddies, nicknamed “Sluk,” joined him there.  He’s imaged in the photo below and refered to in a letter Daddy sent home to his mother, asking her to send money.

Sluk at Camp Le Jeune

The letter reads:

Monday noon

Dear Mother,

 Well [its] raining today so I thought I would drop you a line.

We got back from Fayetteville later than we thought we would.  I ran out of gas about 16 miles out of Fayetteville.  We went and got some old farmer up and he sold us 2 gallons worth of gas.

Sluk got back from [Porto] Rico last week.  We went to the movie the other night.  I think he went home this past weekend.

Would you go down to the bank and get me some money.  I want about twenty dollars.  I want to go away this weekend so I would appreciate it if you would send it right away.

I should [should] be home in [ether] two or four weeks.  Anyway I hope so.

Well [thats] about all for this time.  Be good.

Love    Tyce

And when Daddy finally came home to Pittsburgh, his car was waiting.  In the photo below, the vehicle sits on almost the exact spot where FBI agents arrested Daddy approximately twenty years later.  I described that federal raid several posts back.

So, besides the fact that my father prefered smoking to spelling, what have I learned from all of this that might aid my memoir writing efforts?

Most importantly, perhaps, I recognize the need to interview some of my father’s earliest remaining friends from high school and the marines.  I know “Sluk’s” real name and that of another friend or two, whom, I believe, are still alive and residing in Pittsburgh.  These men might be able to fill me in on what Daddy was like as a young man and help me understand how he came to be involved with organized crime.  The three friends I’m thinking of had nothing to do with the mob.  They went on to college and became a dentist and engineer, and Sluk eventually attended law school and became an attorney.

I don’t know if Daddy had made any of his mafia connections before joining the marines or if all of these relationships developed between 1957 and 1961 when my parents married.  I’m hoping at least one of these men might know when and how.  The buddy who later became an engineer was in my parent’s wedding party, along with the mafia friend I refered to in chapter two–the man who remains the underboss of the Pittsburgh crime family–one who, himself, is fond of a cig and swig from time to time.

Is there anything in particular about this information that stands out to you?  Any questions I need to pose to the men I hope to interview?  Did you, a spouse, sibling, or parent serve in the military?

(My brother thinks I should interview the brother of the mafia friend in my parents’ wedding, the man who was my father’s best friend and closest ally when he died.  I’m a bit hesitant to do that, but I’m giving it some thought.)

Stay tuned.  Coming up soon–more on my parents’ wedding.

73 thoughts on “A Cig and a Swig: Mobster Marine Images Korea

    • Actually, I’m afraid I will encounter the family’s not wanting me to write about this. I’d prefer to write first and face resistance later–if need be. I will somehow have to convince them that I will likely paint them in the most postitive light possible.


  1. I love the old photos Kathy, I have seen many just like this from each of the wars we been able to document with Photography. Good or bad, service men, were and are “boys” young men. Opportunity to break out from family become a man. Ha, Ha.

    I am not sure that anything stands out for me at this time. He (your father) could have begun taking bets or selling smokes, as well as booze, there was and is always a market for those items among service men, some one has to become the supplier, or middle man.


    • So glad you enjoyed the photos, Jeff. Actually, I hadn’t thought of him possibly being engaged in those kinds of activities while in Korea, but I suspect it’s possible. Probably if anyone in his platoon were going to do it, it would have been him. (Is it called a platoon?) That’s actually a fascinating idea to pursue. Thanks so much!


      • As I have mentioned these were young men away from home, trying to have some fun and make some extra money. Not much thought in it… I am glad I could give you a nudge ! LOL!


      • It will be fascinating to at least ask those questions. Plus, I need to go back to the wedding photos and look more closely at my dad’s groomsmen–as I have the actual names of those folks from the wedding announcement that appeared in the paper. It will be impossible to track down the guys who served in Korea with him, if I don’t have names.


  2. I loved looking at these photos and the other memorabilia. I love the letter he sent to his mom, too. Typical college-age boy :). I don’t have any specific questions, but thanks for gathering all this together and sharing it — must have taken a lot of time!

    My father served as an officer in the Navy during the Vietnam War. I think his experience was similar to your father’s — little to no combat (none in my father’s case) but lots of smoking and drinking. Dad has since given up both vices 🙂 Now you’ve motivated me to ask him if he has any photos like this. I don’t think he’s ever shown me any.


    • I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed the photos. I was especially fascinated by the text on the back of the images–the notion that his words survived–the underside of what appears on the surface. Maybe I should have mentioned that in the post. I may even go back and add some reflection about that.

      I hope you will ask you dad if he has any photos. I suspect he will. Was he a photographer in the war? Thanks for having a look. It was actually fun to go through all of this stuff!


  3. I agree with Lisa. I think the more you can learn about his life before the crime family affiliation the better. From the photos he seems like such a typical young guy, it would be interesting to get some idea of when or what caused that light to switch on for him and made dealings with the mob seem like the right path for him to take. Really interesting, and I loved that you shared those photos!


    • Yeah, I think I’m going to see if my mom has email addresses for any of those men. I know she has kept in touch with a number of my father’s friends over the years. And, yes, he does seem pretty typical, doesn’t he? Looks like they managed to have some fun.

      By the way, I got a package from you over the weekend. OMG–I was thrilled. Thank you sooooooooo much. The photo was wonderful. When I saw it on your blog I fell in love with the one of Sara and me, and don’t know if I’ve seen that particular shot of you and me. You are such a sweetie, Tori!


  4. Very interesting. Lots of scannning, Kathy! Great job with it. I would exhaust all possibilities with interviews before I would even think of approaching a current mafia member. Though your intentions are honorable, mafia members are tight-lipped and want NO publicity. (For your safety, Kathy.) Put more thought into this. You can still weave a good story and I have a hunch the details will unfold as you press on.


    • Yes, yes, that’s my reservation exactly. Even though I considered the man an “uncle” and was raised with his being around so often–I suspect I won’t. Heck we often vacationed with them. It’s just so strange to think how they might respond. And I don’t know how I’m going to disguise their identities in what I do end up writing. It will be hard to document the story that is already out there in newspaper articles, etc, without their names becoming obvious.

      Great to hear from you today, Alexandria. Thanks for your concern–for suggesting that I think long and hard about approaching these folks.


      • Your welcome.
        There’s nothing wrong with at least getting your thoughts down in a rough draft for now. Ideas will eventually come.
        Maybe in time you can share that honest draft with him, respecting whatever he wants you to do.
        Peace to you,


      • Thanks! As I said to jesterqueen, I’m hoping my dad’s FBI file will give me as much inside info as I need! I suspect there will be wiretap transcripts–which will be fascinating. Our phone was often tapped and evidence then used in court.


  5. I love old pictures. And I’m totally new to your blog, so those last paragraphs worked like the reveal in a film for me! Some interview questions I can think of–
    “What did you and Dad do most often together?”
    “What were his hobbies that you remember?”
    “What was my Dad’s personality like?”
    “Did he have any problems (debt, or too much of the vices you mention in the photos above) that could have led him to a mafia connection?”

    If it’s safe for you to do so, interview the mafia friend. He might be the only one who really has the insights you’re looking for.


    • Wow–these are GREAT quesions! Thank you so much. The quesion about what the people did with Daddy when they were together would be fascinating to me.

      One of things you may have missed, if you are new, is that I filed a request, based on the Freedom of Information Act, to get a copy of my dad’s FBI file. I’m hoping that might give me what I need without having to interview those guys. We’ll have to see. But, yes, you’re right. They will have the most inside-scoop–assuming they are willing to share it.

      I’m so happy to hear from you today. Thanks so much for stopping by. Hope you’ll come back again soon!


    • So glad you enjoyed these, Charlie. I especially loved seeing my dad’s handwriting on the back of the photos. That brought back memories of him. I can’t wait to see what I learn either. It’s kind of an exciting process.


  6. Your Dad’s pictures resemble my Dad’s. Lots of mugging with his buddies with notes scribbled on them. I bemoan the fact that digital images will render this level of closeness to someone obsolete.

    I think talking to some of your Dad’s friends could be really illuminating for you, whether or not any of it ends up in the book. It is interesting that he asked your grandmother for money and such. Shortfalls could’ve forced him to compensate in ways that led him to the mob.


    • As I sorted these pidctures, I thought about the end of these kinds of photo notes with the advent of digital photography. It’s kind of strange to think of that becoming obsolete. Interesting to hear that your father has similar kinds of photos. And I DO intend to try interviewing my father’s friends. You’re right, even if I don’t use the info in the book itself, it will help to clarify context.


  7. I think you are so blessed to have this photo history of your dad. I think I’ll call my own dad and have a chat with him.


    • Oh, you should call your dad. I wish I could talk with mine. I think you are right. I’m blessed to have these photos. Great to hear from you today! Hope you have a wonderful chat with your father!


  8. Kathryn — your dad was SUCH a stud, and so full of life and mischief! I love this pictorial history and it’s so incredible how it brings that period of time to life… thanks for sharing, and by all means, I think you need to interview everybody you can to get all kinds of perspective on his life. Absolutely!


    • I thought he was awfully handsome, myself. He always was a character–tons of fun, witty, wise-cracking. I will try to interview whomever I can–as long as it feels safe. I’m dying to get the FBI files, however! Thanks for taking a look, Betty. Great to hear from you today!


  9. I always feel like a bit of a voyeur when you share family photographs in your posts, but I always enjoy these images that you share very much. They do make me want to know more about who the subjects are. In the pictures your dad does look like a classic 50s era youth, but it is interesting to consider that possibly the seeds to his ties to the mob might have been planted when he was in the service.

    My father served in the DDYC (Draft Dodgers Yacht Club) during WWII; that’s another name for the Coast Guard.


    • I don’t think the seeds were sewn during his time in the marines–but rather before or after. The connections all seem to be from Pittsburgh. I had always thought my father met these guys in the late 1950s, but it occured to me the other day, he might have gone to school wth them. I don’t know. Maybe I will find out. Sorry to hear you feel like a voyeur. I think I remember your saying that before. I wonder why you feel that way.


  10. I find this fascinating. My dad was born the same year as yours. The pictures are very cool. I was in the AF for eight years, but my dad did not serve in the military.

    I love the whole mafia memoir thing. Sounds so interesting, Kathryn.


    • Glad to know you find this interesting. So far the project has proven successful–and fun–though more difficult to draft than I initially expected. However, gosh, am I learning a lot! Great to hear from you today. How cool that your dad was born the same year as mine. Hope you’ll stop by again soon!


  11. I love old photographs! People look like people in them. By that I mean, it’s easy to imagine that the person in the photo is a member of my own family. They’re someone with worries, with feelings, with dreams and loved ones. It makes me realize (as if I needed the reminder) that people have so much more in common than not.


    • Interesting how old photos feel somehow more deeply connected to the human experience. I suspect that’s what you’re kind of saying. They feel so immediate for being so old. Thanks so much for taking a look. Great to hear from you today. Looks like I was reading your most recent post at the same time you were reading mine. Can’t wait to hear more about how your novel is progressing!


  12. As I was reading this it never occurred to me that you should interview these people! What an airhead I can be! And what a treasure trove of info those folks could be for you. You’re sitting on a gold mine there. What amazes me about old photos, especially those of our parents, is that they are tangible proof that these people existed outside your own realm of understanding. As kids we tend to think of our parents in terms of our own “bubbles.” Pictures of their youth bring forth aspects of them as people, not just as mom or dad. Love these pics, Sista. What a handsome fellow your papa was!


    • Great point, Sista! That is part of why these photos are so fun. It may not have occurred to you that I need to interview these guys, but that is an insight I missed. Guess we’re even then. I love that notion that we forget our parents existed outside our experience of them!


  13. Kathy –

    As I read and slowly scrolled through the photographs, I kept saying to myself, “Please God, no — don’t let me see a photograph of dad.” And I didn’t. He served in Korea (Airforce) at the same time your dad did (Marines).

    To my knowledge, my dad didn’t have anything to do with the mob, but as a small plane pilot, he flew to Las Vegas on a consistent and regular basis to gamble. He won. A lot. So much so, he was banned from many casinos.

    Since becoming a regular reader of your blog, I can tell you the “mob” thought has run through my mind, but we never had any encounters with the FBI (that I’m aware of). The police, yes. But not the FBI.

    – Laurie


    • Wow, Laurie. Wow! What part of the country are you from? Have you ever thought about applying to see if your father had an FBI file? Is your dad still alive? Sounds like you have an interesting story to tell based on those facts alone. Totally fascinating!


      • Yes – my dad is still alive. But with all the meds he takes for being Manic Depressive, Paranoid Schizophrenic his long-term memory just isn’t there. I do, indeed, have an interesting story. And I weave select elements of it into the writing that I do.


      • Yes, those meds do affect long term memory. I was just thinking that you can’t submit a request for an FBI file, if the person is still living. But, then again, you may prefer not to know. Sorry to hear your father is ill. I suppose that means his diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder–which means the combined symptoms of both schizoprenia and bipolar disorder/mood disorder–but then, I’m sure, I don’t need to tell you that!


  14. I just love the family history part of this. The youthfulness of him. Have you ever looked at the pictures and thought…had he met or gotten involved with anyone by this time? What about this picture a week later? When. When. When.!!!!! And how how how!!!! I am eager for the answers to your yet asked questions. I can’t imagine your anticipation. I hope you get answers. I love that you have these pictures and letter.


    • I know–it IS fun, isn’t it? I got a huge kick out of going through this stuff. And isn’t it fascinating to think what I might know a year from now that I don’t know now? I love chatting with you about all of this, as your enthusiasm is contagious! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your reading and commenting. So often your comments make my day. Hugs to you!


      • Aww, thanks Kathryn! A hug is a good thing today. I am excited about what you learn. And you are most welcome for me enjoying your talent. 😉


  15. Great vintage photos. A slice of history and of your father. (Quite handsome, you know.) Why are you hesitant to interview the brother of your father’s friend? Don’t think of it as an interview; just go and chat and see what happens. I think it’s worthwhile. As my Venezuelan mother used to say, “Tocar la puerta no es entrar.” Let me know if you need that translated. 🙂


    • Glad you enjoyed the photos, Monica. The brother is also in the mafia and would be part of the story–thus, I don’t think he’s going to want his story told. But, yes, I could meet with him without telling him about my project and just ask some broad questions as part of general conversation. I just have a huge need for transparency and would be uncomfortable not being forthright.

      Yes, I know–if I don’t knock on the door, I can’t enter–or something like that, right? Your mother is wise!


      • I’m not suggesting to not be forthcoming. I’m just saying, put the interview aspects aside. Just go to catch up, talk old times. If you determine he has valuable information to share, that he’s receptive and being open,and if you’re comfortable with doing an interview, you could always say, may I come back to interview you for a book I’m writing about my parents? I’m thinking this way you can first see how comfortable the situation is or isn’t. Not sure if that makes sense. But no, with anyone associated with the Mafia, you don’t want to be deceptive. yikes.


      • Yes, this makes perfect sense. I have a rather intense/extreme sense of what “honest” is. My Sara says she thinks it’s from having to keep family secrets for so long, that I error on the side of extreme/excessive forthrightness. I think she’s exactly right. My abilitiy to measure these things may be a bit “broken.” Thanks, Monica!


  16. I agree with folks who encourage you to find out as much as possible. You never know what tidbit will be important. Whether your dad slid into organized crime or whether there was a pivotal moment, etc.


    • Yes, I need to know whatever I can. Maybe it doesn’t matter how it happened, but, gosh, I want to know. It’s a curious question most readers are going to ask. Don’t you think? I go back and forth on this.


  17. Moose, Slim and Sluk? Did your dad have a nickname himself? I can’t blame him for the cig and the swig. If I were serving on the front lines of a war zone, I’d probably imbibe a bit myself.

    Good luck with the interviews! I think they’ll give you some great information for your book.


  18. My dad was in the army about the same time, from ’53 to ’55. He went to Germany. He proposed to my mother over the phone when he learned of his assignment. He said they were still killing people in Korea and he didn’t want to marry mom if he went there on the chance he might leave her a widow. I’m not sure I understand his logic. If you keep at it you will uncover leads to the answers to your questions. Detective work sounds interesting. Keep us posted.


    • Perhaps, back then men were more inclined to propose to women who had never been married/widowed, so your dad didn’t want to limit your mother’s options were something to happen to him. Also, I didn’t know things were still tough in Korea at that time. Sounds scary.

      Yes, the reearch is fun–more so than I expected. And I will definitely keep you posted. Thanks so much for reading, Chrisitne.


  19. How wonderful that you have all of these photos! I really enjoyed reading this post and being able to glance backwards in time through your father’s photos and captions. 🙂


    • I’m excited to have this material. Plus, there is a bit of the researcher/archivist in me–loving to figure out what it all means, loving to handle these documents from the past. Thanks for taking a look, my friend!


  20. Great photos. Your dad was a hunk. The photos are a tease though. Makes you want to know more about him at the time – even the tiniest thing besides the drinking and smoking. I think jesterqueen nailed it.


  21. I just love photo entries. These are great and I really like the idea of you interviewing your dad’s old friends. I think it’ll give you some great insight into different aspects of your dad’s personality. Good luck!


  22. It was really fun to see all the photos. Your daddy was clearly a social butterfly and made friends easily. I’m sure some of the traits that won him friends so easily are the same traits that made him so successful as a bookie. I didn’t read through all the comments and I’m sure it’s been suggested, but you should ask his old friends to describe his personality.


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