WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Richard J. "Pat" DeSanto was present during one of the pivotal moments of the Korean War.
DeSanto was an Air Force parachute rigger stationed at Kimpo Air Base in Korea the day North Korean pilot No Kum Sok defected by flying his Russian-built MiG fighter jet to the air base.
"The MiG taxies up very close to the parachute shop I was working in," DeSanto said. "There was all kinds of commotion when that thing came in."
According to DeSanto, the Americans had long wanted to get their hands on a MiG in order to study the technology the Russians put into its construction.
The plane was "reverse-engineered" - taken apart piece by piece to determine how it had been put together, he said.
DeSanto was born and raised in Williamsport. He graduated from Williamsport High School in 1949.
When the Korean War broke out shortly thereafter, DeSanto and a group of friends decided to enlist together.
"We played baseball and ran around together. We figured, what the hell, we're going to get drafted. We may as well enlist," DeSanto said.
"There were 11 of us," DeSanto said. "We all went in the Air Force and then everybody went in different directions."
DeSanto most likely wouldn't have been in Korea if it hadn't been for an act of generosity he made toward a fellow serviceman.
DeSanto was a staff sergeant teaching parachute rigging at Chanute Field in Illinois when he learned another staff sergeant, who was married and had five children, had received orders to go overseas.
"I went to the captain and I asked if orders could be changed and I'd take his place," DeSanto said. "It was OK'd."
DeSanto shipped out for Japan, where he was assigned, not to a parachute shop, but to the base salvage yard. DeSanto said his job consisted of picking up the phone and handing it "to somebody who knew what they were doing."
"I was there just shy of a year and got bored having a good time and volunteered to go to Korea," he said. "I wanted to get back to doing what I was trained to do."
He was sent to Kimpo, but wasn't there long before he began questioning the wisdom of volunteering for such a place.
During DeSanto's first night at the base there was an air raid and an officer ordered him into the nearest foxhole.
"He landed on top of me and after it was over, he had shrapnel in his butt," DeSanto said. "When he was on top of me, I was thinking, 'you must be some kind of fool to volunteer to go to Korea,' " he said. "I was having a helluva good time in Japan."
Kimpo was home to American and Australian air force squadrons.
DeSanto said living conditions at the base were spartan, but nothing compared to what American soldiers endured in combat zones.
"We had some uncomfortable living conditions, but nothing compared to the guys on the front lines," he said. "It was horrendous up there."
According to DeSanto, he lived in a tent and during the winter it "was anywhere from 20 to 40 degrees below zero."
"The pot-bellied stove would be glowing red," DeSanto said. "You'd lay there at night facing the stove and get that side warm, then roll over and get the back side warm."
The air base had been overrun by North Koreans early in the war.
When the base received word the enemy was starting an offensive everyone had to go out to the perimeter of the base on alert, DeSanto said.
DeSanto said a tragedy occurred while he was working in the Quonset hut that served as the base parachute shop.
An Australian fighter plane was being serviced in a nearby hut. The plane was supposed to be disarmed, but wasn't, DeSanto said.
When a technician got into the plane's cockpit, he accidentally set off its 20 millimeter cannons. Shells ripped through the hut and struck and killed an airman who was getting ready to return to the U.S., he said.
After DeSanto returned Stateside, he was stationed at Lockborne Air Force Base in Columbus, Ohio. He was discharged in 1954.
DeSanto went to Lycoming College for two years on the GI Bill. He later worked as a city police officer for 11 years, then went to work as a county detective for the District Attorney's Office.
He retired in 1996.
DeSanto said he is happy he served in the military.