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Remembering The Forgotten War

"Remembering The Forgotten War" Continued...

Issue: "Blind exiled brave," Aug. 10, 2013

“I’ve never called it the forgotten war,” said Birney Dibble, a military doctor during the war now living in Wisconsin. “I’ve called it the unknown war. You can’t forget something you never knew about.”

The brutal nature of the combat is not something the war’s survivors will forget. Korea’s terrain and its undeveloped road network made it an infantry war. Masses of men moved through forests, valleys, and hills in the dark, squaring off, sometimes eyeball to eyeball, and with shoulder-fired weapons, mortars, and artillery. Tanks mainly operated in support of troops, and the fighting devolved into the trench warfare more common in World War I.

Americans lost more than 36,500 soldiers killed and more than 103,000 wounded in 37 months of fighting. That’s an average of more than 988 dead and nearly 2,800 wounded each month. Just over 8,000 American soldiers are still listed as missing in action.

“Imagine picking up the newspaper today and seeing those kind of casualties,” Weber said.

Wayne Winebrenner, 18 years old when deployed to Korea, still hears the bugle blows the enemy used as a signal for their hidden troops to rise and attack. “When we got hit I felt like Custer wondering where in the devil all the Indians came from,” said Winebrenner, who now lives in Hagerstown, Md.

During one attack, the enemy came dressed in uniforms taken from dead or captured U.S. Marines, almost wiping out an entire company near Winebrenner’s unit. In the winter the enemy wore white, so what looked like snow suddenly came alive at the bugle calls. Sometimes just the enemy soldiers in front carried weapons. The ones behind them would snatch rifles from their dead comrades while advancing.

Dibble spent 16 months in combat as a 25-year-old surgeon with the First Marine Division. He’d work nonstop for days at makeshift aid stations with no tents or bunkers, treating men who stepped on landmines or had up to 40 pieces of shrapnel covering their bodies. Working on his knees in the dark and the snow, Dibble used a penlight to locate wounds—turning on a flashlight would invite an enemy attack. Once a single enemy got through the guards and invaded an aid station, the spray of bullets from his machine gun killing Dibble’s aide and the wounded soldier they were working on. After one Chinese offensive, Dibble counted medical tags and found that 1,004 cases had arrived at his company in three days.

Sixty years later the memories of such carnage are fresh, and many veterans are striving to make sure the sacrifices of the Korean War’s fallen are not forgotten. Weber wants the names of the dead added to the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall. In 1987 Ronald Reagan appointed Weber to the advisory board overseeing the building of the memorial. The final product, featuring 19 steel statues in combat gear representing a squad on patrol, Weber believes remains unfinished: “The memorial reminds people that someone served, but it doesn’t remind them that someone sacrificed.”

He’s testified before Congress and gotten lawmakers to write bills. But the current version of legislation to add the names has only 40 supporters in the House.

On a local level, members of Antietam Chapter 312 of the Korean War Veterans Association have had more success. In June they dedicated a monument in Hagerstown, Md. It bears the names of the 32 Korean War dead from surrounding Washington County inscribed on a stone tablet. The chapter raised $40,000 for the project, with local governments supplying an additional $60,000. Dozens came to the unveiling ceremony, where a bell rang once for each of the dead.

The memorial also honors living veterans like John Koontz, whose oldest son was nearly 19 months old before Koontz first saw him. At 82, his left foot still tingles from the frostbite he got six decades ago in Korea. The monument also honors Jesse Englehart, 81, who had his helmet shot off his head twice running up a hill at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, and survived a grenade landing 10 feet from him. And John Jackson, 84, who earned a Bronze Star driving an M4 tank in combat with only one week’s rest during 13 months of fighting.

“Lord knows how many people I ran over with that tank,” said Jackson, whose unit won six battle stars. “You are moving day and night and you don’t know where you are going. I do think about it to this day. It takes something out of you.”

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