Leo Craps of Gilbert served as a military police officer from 1950-52 during the Korean War. When he returned home, the self-described “plain ol’ country boy” went back to work without any fanfare.
The recognition for his service was a long time coming.
On Monday, during a special event in Columbia, the 84-year-old finally received thanks, handshakes and hugs — 60 years after the war ended.
“It’s just out of this world,” said Craps, sporting a Korean War Veteran cap and red-white-and-blue shirt and leaning on a hand-carved cane. “It just gives me chills. We really appreciate this.”
About 800 people — Korean War veterans, their families, dignitaries and others — jammed the main ballroom of the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center on Monday to honor those who fought in “The Forgotten War.”
Long overshadowed by veterans of World War II, Korean War vets have received more attention recently, during 60th anniversary commemorations of the conflict, which was fought from 1950-53.
About 300,000 U.S. troops fought in Korea, and 34,000 died in the war, which ended in a stalemate along the infamous 38th parallel.
“I don’t think people realize how vicious the Korean War was … and how close we came to losing,” said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the keynote speaker at the event. “We’re not here to get nostalgic today. We’re here to say ‘thank you.’”
The event was sponsored by Honor Flight of South Carolina, which was formed five years ago to fly World War II veterans for free to see their memorial in Washington. But in the past year, the numbers of the “Greatest Generation” have waned and Honor Flight is now focusing more on flying Korean War veterans to the nation’s capital to see their memorial.
“You will be forgotten no more,” Honor Flight of South Carolina chairman and founder Bill Dukes said.
The Korean War began when, on June 25, 1950, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, commonly known as North Korea, invaded the Republic of Korea, commonly known as South Korea.
The North was supported by China and the Soviet Union. The South was backed by the United Nations, which sent troops from 28 countries to stem the North’s attack. It was the first conflict of the Cold War and was deemed a “police action” conducted by the UN, rather than a declared war pitting nuclear powers the United States and the United Kingdom against the Soviet Union and China, which also had nuclear weapons.
On Monday, James Alford of Dillon County noted that it also marked another milestone — the first time black and white U.S. troops fought together in formal units.
“It was the first integrated war,” said Alford, a military police office who served in Korea from 1951-53. “And it’s important the country remember all of our sacrifices.”
Monday’s event was filled with patriotic music and inspiring speeches. The vets were given certificates from the U.S. Department of Defense, and signed up for commemorative medals from South Korea. Gov. Nikki Haley also sent a proclamation designating Monday as “Korean War Veterans Day” in South Carolina.
Glenn Perdue, 79, of Chesterfield County, said the honors were not necessary, but welcome.
“We served. We did our duty. We didn’t look for special recognition,” the Navy medic said. “But it’s good to have that recognition, especially for those who didn’t make it back.”