Remembering the Forgotten War
August 27, 2013
By Kristine Kim
Local Korean War veteran among 60th anniversary ceremony honorees
In 1953, the leaders of the United States, China, South Korea and North Korea signed the armistice ending the Korean War. On July 27, 2013, the 60th anniversary of the momentous occasion, the King County Council recognized those who fought in the conflict in the Republic of Korea.
Among them was Ron Howatson, an 81-year-old veteran who served as a Navy “Seabee” at K-6 in Pyongtek, South Korea. “Seabee” comes from the initials CB, for construction battalion, made up from engineer and construction specialists serving in the Navy. According to Howatson, of Issaquah, it seemed like they had the best of everything.
“We were a big battalion of people,” Howatson said. “I was on the rock crusher crew.”
In his 10 months in Korea, spread between 1953 and 1954, Howatson was assigned to the First Marine Airwing, with the fireplanes.
Though he was located in what he called the “combat zone,” he never experienced any combat in his time at the base.
“We had a lot of fun. That’s what I would try to remember the most,” he said.
But even with the camaraderie, there was something Howatson shared with his fellow Seabees: He wanted to go home.
Howatson considers the experience a positive one. While serving his country, he was able to learn “a bit about independence and how to take orders.” Other than that, he said he was “just there.”
“We were pretty well taken care of. The food was good. No complaints after 60 years,” he said, chuckling. “I was just like everybody else. We all got drafted back in those days. Of course, it was emotional, but that was a long time ago. The most important thing was getting it over with and getting home.”
Forgotten memories, forgotten war
In the 60 years since the conflict, Howatson admits there is much he has forgotten. For him, it is understandable; after all, he was only 20 years old when he joined the Army from the Navy reserve. It was practically another lifetime during which he busted rocks from a rock quarry, ran them through a crusher and made the pavement for a runway surface.
“It was just exactly like “M*A*S*H.” Whoever wrote that TV show had to have been there, because it was perfect,” Howatson said.
But amid the time period surrounding the Korean War was the Vietnam War, a conflict that started within 10 years of the Korean War’s end. Since then, the struggle in Korea has come to be known as “The Forgotten War.” For David Waggoner, quartermaster for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Albert Larson Post 3436, it is especially important that those veterans are remembered.
“They served, they died, they fought in the war,” Waggoner said. “People can call it a police action, but it’s a war. I just think that all those soldiers, sailors, pilots need to be recognized so they’re not forgotten. They served. They went.”
There are an estimated 55,000 Korean War veterans statewide, with approximately 10,000 living in King County, according to a County Council press release.
“Some may think the Korean War has been forgotten, but it is anything but that for our country and the brave men and women who fought in it,” Councilwoman Julia Patterson said at the recognition ceremony July 27. “The 60th anniversary of the armistice is a reminder of the importance of peace and the great sacrifices that members of our armed forces make.”
Above and beyond the call of duty
Since his service in the war, Howatson has continued to be an integral part of the veteran community. He has been the post adjutant for Albert Larson Post 3436 of Veterans of Foreign Wars for about 15 years. And if you see a man scaling the flagpole at Issaquah’s Hillside Cemetery on Memorial Day, Independence Day or on the day of a fellow VFW comrade’s funeral, do not be surprised if it is Howatson.
The veteran has been doing that duty for at least the past 10 years, according to Waggoner.
“I don’t know why I do it. I asked myself that question every time,” Howatson said when asked why he continues the practice. “It’s just something I felt like I should do. I got a truck and a ladder, so I can do it.”
That’s not all he does either.
“He’s a great guy. He’s a rock. He is the foundation that builds character,” Waggoner said. To the quartermaster, there is no end to the good that Howatson has done. “He’s always there, he always helps, despite his age. He can say no, but he doesn’t. He always does the thing he’s supposed to do.”
Albert Larson Post 3435 named Howatson Veteran of the Year in 2012.
For Howatson, it is evident in his actions that it is important for him to give back to the community. Before he went to war, he lived in Issaquah, graduating from Issaquah High School in the class of 1950. After returning, he worked as an electrician for 40 years before retiring.
He enjoys giving back to the community through the VFW because of the experiences the veterans share.
“It’s a great organization, and the people you meet are the people you have stuff in common with. It’s a good experience,” Howatson said. “We sponsor a Boy Scout troop and a Cub Scout troop, and we’ve given a lot of scholarships to the schools. It’s just community service, and it’s enjoyable.”
Waggoner shared a story that spans decades, starting when Howatson was in the Issaquah High School band in 1949. When a monument was placed on what is now Veterans Memorial Field, the band played at the ceremony. Afterward, each band member — including Howatson — was given a dime to do with what they wanted.
Years later, when the high school band played at another VFW event, Waggoner had the Korean War veteran get a couple of rolls of dimes to continue the tradition.
“It was fun times,” Waggoner said.
Now, 60 years after his service, Howatson is content.
“I sort of forgot about it,” he said. “I’m glad it ended, and it did end right for us, I think.”