Military News

August 6, 2013

Veteran reflects on 60th anniversary of Korean War armistice

By IslandPacket —

Thanks to Bob Warden of Hilton Head Island for sharing a story about the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice.

Bob served in Korea as a mortarman with the U.S. Army, 17th Infantry Regiment, in 1952 and 1953. Five years later, he transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard and retired in 1981.

"Time to Reflect"

By Bob Warden

The evening of July 26 and the morning of July 27 were days this old soldier will never forget.

Sixty years ago, I was about to board a troop ship that would take me home from Korea. The announcement of the armistice ending the fighting in Korea was uneventful since we were leaving for home the next day. We had survived. The Iron Triangle, Old Baldy and Pork Chop Hill were behind us.

On Friday evening, 300 members of the Korean War Veterans Association held a banquet at the Sheraton Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Special remarks were given by the chairman of the South Korean National Assembly, expressing the gratitude of the people and the government of South Korea for our service.

The keynote speaker was Gen. Walter Sharp, former commander of the United Nations Command and commander of U.S. forces in Korea.

At my table was the 91-year-old retired American Army officer of Burmese descent, Kenneth Wu, who translated Chinese at the Panmunjom truce talks. We had interesting discussions, but he was reluctant to comment as to why the issue of prisoner repatriation took a year during which thousands of Americans died, or to answer my question if it was worth it?

Our other table mate, Davelin Wilson, was a black army veteran who was severely wounded early in the war. The Korean War was the first war that the military was integrated. He spent 13 months hospitalized and in rehabilitation before going home. During his rehabilitation at Fort Smith, Ark., several of his fellow patients, black and white, had the opportunity to go to the local movies. Upon arrival, they were refused seating in the same section due to segregation. After a non-violent demonstration, the MPs explained the local situation.

On Saturday morning at 7 a.m., we all boarded chartered buses to the Pentagon parking lot where we proceeded through security prior to boarding other buses provided by the Department of Defense. They took us to the Mall next to the Korean War Memorial, where we joined the 5,000 attendees for a special ceremony. It was unclear to us whether the president would attend. What was known was that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would address the gathering. Prior to the appearance of dignitaries on the platform, Charles Rangel of New York, only one of two Korean War veterans serving in Congress, made some comments.

Large television screens showed the presentation of commemorative wreaths at the memorial site by representatives of countries from the United Nations, patriotic organizations, American Armed Forces and President Barack Obama.

After Chuck Hagel's remarks, the U.S. Marine Band played Ruffles and Flourishes and we knew for sure that the president was about to appear. It was a memorable experience as my wife, Loretta, and I sat in the first 10 rows, sensing the excitement and emotions of those around us. President Obama's comments were most appropriate for the occasion, focusing on the theme that this war should never be forgotten or its veterans overlooked.

Also impressive during the morning were the hundreds of active-duty military who volunteered to work on this Saturday, acting as guides, escorts, golf cart drivers, ushers and other roles to assure the safety and comfort of all present.

After the ceremony, on our return to the buses, I saw Davelin, our table mate at the previous evening's banquet. He emotionally commented that during his lifetime he had experienced segregation in an Arkansas movie theater and he was here today to see his president, a black man, deliver the keynote address to thousands of veterans and their families.

Now, after 60 years have passed, I have had time to reflect on sacrifices that were made. On this special weekend, I saw the appreciation of the hundreds of South Koreans, both civilian and military, many of whom personally thanked me and the other veterans who fought in that war.

I left Washington with a good feeling.

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