Off the Press

July 26, 2011

By Bob Taylor

Remember veterans of Korea, a forgotten war

A friend of the family once told a story about his Korean War days. It seems that he and his U.S. Army infantry platoon were ordered to liberate a sake brewery.

Bob Taylor Press sports editor

They took the brewery without firing a shot because the building was vacant. Inside the brewery were numerous barrels of sake. Since the orders were to liberate the brewery, well, our friend and his platoon followed orders. After all, a soldier’s duty is to follow orders.

For the next week or so, the platoon went on a big bender until the sake was totally liberated. I have a hunch these fellows probably had one massive hangover because undiluted sake is 18 to 20 percent alcohol.

His commanding officer was not pleased, and our friend, who was a sergeant at the time, received a demotion in rank. However, our friend believed by spending time in the sake brewery he kept some young men out of harm’s way for a few precious days.

Other than this one experience, our friend does not talk that much about his Korean War days.

Overall, I do not think he found it as amusing as some of the episodes of the long-running TV series “M*A*S*H.” Much like my friends who served in Vietnam and local vets I have met from World War II, war is still a painful memory.

I will think of my friend July 27, which marks the anniversary of the signing of the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War.

Unfortunately, not many people today are knowledgeable about the United States’ involvement in the war, which pitted South Korea against North Korea. Nor are they aware of the many sacrifices made by men and women from our nation during that war, which began June 25, 1950, when North Korean forces invaded South Korea.

When President Harry S. Truman sent in troops, it was called a “police action.” But it was a total war.

While the United States and the United Nations backed South Korea, the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union supported North Korea. China sent supplies and numerous soldiers into the conflict while the Soviet Union provided material aid and some advisers.

The Korean War had many American heroes who braved a harsh climate and rugged terrain.

It was a costly war. According to some estimates, the United States lost 33,686 troops in battles. That is a staggering total, considering 58,000 were lost during 10 years of the Vietnam War, which when it began was also regarded as a “police action.”

In addition, other United Nations contingents lost 17,000 men. It is estimated that including civilians, the Korean War cost the lives of around 4 million people.

Many people felt America’s involvement in the Korean conflict was senseless. Like Vietnam and today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, some people wondered what the United States gained from fighting in Korea.

Fortunately, America’s involvement ended on July 27, 1953, when a truce was signed at Panmunjom maintaining a divided Korea. Military leaders from North Korea and the People’s Republic of China signed the agreement on one side, with the U.S.-led United Nations Command signing on behalf of the international community.

Syngman Rhee, president of South Korea, refused to sign the agreement but pledged to observe the armistice.

The Korean War has often been dubbed “The Forgotten War” or the “Unknown War,” because it is sandwiched between the glory of World War II and the agony of the Vietnam War.

Some people in this country may have forgotten it, but I certainly believe the Korean War has not been forgotten by the Koreans.

Nor has it been forgotten by those survivors from that war and their families. There is a lasting reminder to these brave men and women — the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

It has been a long time since Korea, but let’s not forgot those vets.

Bob Taylor: 392-6434, ext. 236, or bobtaylor@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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