By Greg Ritchie
EAST TEXAS – The Korean War is aptly known as the forgotten war. Nestled between the World War II and the tumult of the Kennedy assassination and the war in Vietnam, the conflict in Korea is now most remembered for the fact that it is not well remembered at all.
However, the Korean War still has a very important impact on global politics today, with over 30,000 U.S. soldiers still guarding the border between North and South Korea. The current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, still defies the United Nations and threatens the South and its allies.
Jong-Un’s grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, invaded the South on June 25, 1950 pushing the South Korean troops and their American advisers all the way to Busan in the southeast corner of the country. General Douglas McArthur invaded the North at the city of Inchon hundreds of miles behind the lines, taking the North’s capital and causing them to retreat to defend it. The people of the North are still told that it was the U.S. that invaded them. They are also told the Kim family invented hamburgers, so a grain of salt is needed.
The Americans and the South Koreans battled their way through the cold and mountains of North Korea until the Communist Chinese attacked across the border causing one of the longest retreats in the history of the U.S. Army. The battle lines stabilized around the 38th parallel, where they stand today, still guarded by North and South.
In spite of the desperate struggles the soldiers faced and the importance this war had, and has to the history of the world, most know little or nothing about it. As we lose the last veterans of the Second World War, focus has now shifted to the forgotten sons sent to fight in Korea.
July 27, 1953 was when the armistice was signed calling for a halt to hostilities in Korea. It is now celebrated as a day to honor the few remaining veterans of that conflict.
The Dogwood Chapter 991 of the Vietnam Veterans of America invited some of the local Korean War veterans to a luncheon in their honor in Palestine. The Vietnam Veterans and their wives and supporters welcomed the gentlemen at noon for speeches, music and food in their honor.
There were veterans from the Navy, Air Force and Army, all still in good health and better cheer. They came ready to share their stories, still fresh in their memories after 72 years.
Korean War veteran Curtis Grantham, now 92, lives near Palestine. He ran away from his home in Greenville, Mississippi at the age of 16 to hitchhike and seek his fortune in the wider world. No cars stopped to pick him for some time, until a trucker came to the rescue.
“He stopped and asked me where I was going,” Grantham said. “I didn’t know so I said, ‘where are you going?’ The driver told me, ‘Houston, Texas.’ So I said, ‘yes, I am going to Houston too.’”
Grantham ended up joining the army and was sent to Korea where he served in combat for over a year and a half. Grantham served in the field artillery. As one of the youngest and strongest in his group, he was tasked with lugging the shells for the big 105 millimeter guns up the hills and mountains of Korea.
“They couldn’t bring trucks into those mountains because the trucks couldn’t make it, especially in winter,” Grantham explained. “I put one big shell under each arm and carried them from the road to our position. I was just a kid but it was good exercise and I got strong.”
When the Americans were pushed back, they had to move in the fierce cold in the Korean mountains. Forrest Boman from Palestine was in the signal corps. He survived his nine months of combat, including the great retreat from the Chinese. He remembers seeing the incredible number of troops streaming south. The danger was always close; from both the enemy and the bitter cold.
“We were isolated, providing communications between divisions,” Boman noted. “We were sitting ducks out there. I got frostbite on my face and I have rosacea to this day because of it.”
Back to the war and the early 1950’s, General McArthur wanted to use nuclear weapons to halt the Chinese advance which eventually led to his dismissal by then President Harry Truman. A controversial decision at the time. To some, a controversial decision still.
“I thought McArthur would do the right thing. I believed that dropping atomic bombs on China would end the war,” Boman said. “But Truman would not let McArthur disobey an order, so Truman had no choice but to relieve him. McArthur was egotistical, but he was a good general.”
The soldiers America sent to that war did their duty, even if historians may question the motives and the long term effects of the war. Hindsight some say, is always 20/20.
Boman recalled at that time things were different.
“The view of war is different from the foxhole than at the Pentagon. We didn’t question our duty in those days. We were called to serve, we served, and we were proud to do it,” Boman added.
Greg Ritchie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org