Military service wasn't in the cards for Anthony Dalla Costa’s father.
The Italian immigrant fled his homeland before dictator Benito Mussolini’s regime invaded Ethiopia to steal the African nation’s natural resources and gain combat experience for its fascist forces.
Upon arriving in the United States, he was drafted into the Army, but family and friends convinced the Selective Service the new arrival in Chicago (who wasn't even 5 feet tall and didn't speak English well) should be granted a deferment.
His son, however, found comrades in arms for life in the service, regardless of their nationality.
Dalla Costa, 84, of Lansing, served as a driver, checkpoint guard, switchboard operator and phone repair lineman, among other capacities, in Chorwon-Kumwha (also known as the Iron Triangle) in the waning months of the Korean War.
Drafted off the family dairy farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in 1951, Dalla Costa frequently worked alongside KATUSA — Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army — local soldiers who could serve as translators and smooth cultural differences. The program still exists.
“They spoke good English,” said Dalla Costa of Korean compatriots Chung and Li, adding both had been trained as linemen. They would accompany the crew aboard a jeep outfitted with a large spool of telephone line or carrying “doughnut” wire reels on their backs for terrain too rough to drive.
“They were good people. We got along real good,” he said.
Both KATUSA told similar stories of how they “joined” the army.
Republic of Korea troops would pull up alongside with soldiers ordering them into their truck. When they climbed aboard they learned they had officially “enlisted” in the ROK army.
Dalla Costa remembers a close call when the enemy opened fire on the repair crew. Everybody scattered. Li came running to intercept the jeep, which Dalla Costa threw into reverse, and they all escaped the mortar barrage unscathed.
On a less serious note, Dalla Costa recalled the time he was on checkpoint guard duty along a remote road and again experienced heavy mortar fire. A battalion commander and his driver who came upon him asked what it was like on the road ahead.
Informed “the heavy stuff” was raining down, the commander told his driver, “Turn around. We’re going back!” and said to Dalla Costa, standing there with his carbine, “You stay here and don’t let anybody through.”
As the would-be brass hat beat a hasty retreat, Dalla Costa, who can laugh about it now, hunkered down to avoid being hit.
The closest he came to being injured was after he dove under a halftrack during an artillery salvo and mindlessly started to reach for a piece of molten shrapnel from a direct hit on a tank.
The tale of the tank's destruction solicited a touching response at a gathering years later from a former tank crew vet who had lost mates in such an attack.
There have been many such gatherings since Dalla Costa left the service some five months after the armistice halted hostilities in Korea. He belongs to Calumet Memorial Post 330 of the American Legion, is a life member of VFW Post 8141, both in Calumet City, and is chaplain of the Korean War Veterans Association Indiana Chapter 3 which meets at Legion Post 369 in East Chicago.
As chaplain of the Korean vets group, Dalla Costa sends birthday and condolence cards to members and families, sometimes hand-delivering them, letting fellow aging warriors know he's still there for them.