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Remembering The Forgotten War

"Remembering The Forgotten War" Continued...

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

Jackson can’t resist driving by the Hagerstown memorial every time he goes to the supermarket. “I like to go by there at night. With the lights you can see everything. I rub my hands on it. It is just so smooth. It’s beautiful.”

memorial2.jpg

IT’S BEAUTIFUL: Englehart, Koontz, Winebrenner, and Les Bishop, Commander of the Antietam Chapter 312 of the Korean War Veterans Association, at the new monument. (Lee Love/Genesis Photos)

Other veterans have found their own ways to make sure their war is not forgotten. For the last 12 years, Dibble, the surgeon, has lectured classes of medical students about his battle experiences. James Butcher taught for 38 years at the University of Minnesota, enduring campus protests over Vietnam and other wars while many of his students and fellow faculty members never knew he was a veteran. Butcher’s unit lost 19 men during the Battle of Pork Chop Hill in April 1953. At 18, the newly promoted sergeant had to force his men to advance under a massive artillery barrage: “I was basically pushing people to their death.”

Butcher wrote about his experiences not long after returning, but never intended to publish the work. With the 60th anniversary approaching, he decided he had been silent long enough: In April he published Korea: Traces of a Forgotten War, surprising many of his former university colleagues.

“So many of my buddies had died I felt like it was my duty to say something about it.”

It’s not just veterans on the front lines in the battle for remembrance. This summer the Midland Korean Baptist Church in Texas invited area Korean War veterans to come to a thank-you service. The 70-member church gave each of the 23 veterans who attended a flower, served them Korean food, and performed traditional Korean music and dances.

“I don’t know about other wars, but at least for the Korean War I wanted to assure them their sacrifice was worthy,” said pastor Hongnak Koo. “Without their sacrifices the blessings of South Korea would not have come.”

Koo’s own life was changed by the war. Before the communist invasion, Pyongyang, now the capital of North Korea, was called “Jerusalem of the East” for its large population of Christians. But the communists killed or expelled many Christians. Koo grew up in the village of Kongju in South Korea, where he could pursue a pastoral calling that led him to a Texas seminary.

Koo remembers one place where the war has never been forgotten. Since 1975 the South Korean government has subsidized trips for veterans to revisit the land where they fought. By the end of 2011 more than 28,000 veterans had made the journey. The program pays for half of the veteran’s airfare and all of accommodations and meals once in Korea. Drivers chauffeur them to battle sites where they can see firsthand how the nation has been transformed. A place they remember as a primitive country full of straw-thatched houses, ragged children, filth, disease, and poverty now boasts skyscrapers, and one of the world’s largest economies with multinationals like Samsung and Hyundai.

“You go there and close your eyes and open them and you could be in London, New York, or Tokyo,” said Dibble, who has made two trips back to Korea. “And it wasn’t just the old codgers like us who remembered when the Marines were there. The younger people would come up to us and shake our hands.”

Winebrenner returned to Korea in 2011. His conclusion: “If we had not stopped communism in Korea it probably would have spread throughout Asia and the South Pacific.”

By the numbers

Popperfoto/Getty Images

On the Korean Peninsula, more than 988 U.S. soldiers died and nearly 2,800 were wounded each month over 37 months of fighting.

  • 36,516 American soliders killed
  • 103,284 American soldiers wounded
  • 8,075 Americans soldiers listed as missing in action
Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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