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July 27, 2013

Local Korea vets reflect after 60 years

By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — July 27 marks the 60th anniversary of the cease-fire that brought an end to fighting in the Korean War. Several area veterans from the war, which started June 25, 1950, and one who served on another front during that time, shared some thoughts about the milestone.

Masonville resident John “Jack” Thomas said he was 19 or 20, living in Valley Stream, when he enlisted in the Army in 1951. He served in the 31st Regiment of the 7the Infantry Division. It was part of the United Nations forces that were sent to the peninsula after North Korea invaded the South.

He served on the battlefront until he came home at the end of 1952. “It was a very bloody war,” he said. He can never forget the severe winters when the temperature would drop far below zero. Surviving the cold was difficult to do. The troops were not outfitted properly for such harsh weather.

He hoped the anniversary “wakes up a few people to what veterans have gone through, and the lives that were lost.”

He recalls being very disappointed when he learned of the cease-fire. The 7th Infantry was put on alert in 1952 to be part of an invasion force.

“I was young and excited about doing it,” he said. The leaders were planning on taking troops by ship from Inchon in South Korea to invade North Korea at the Yalu River. “It was our thought this would unite the country,” Thomas said.

That plan was called off without explanation, he said, but today he’s glad that occurred.

“We don’t know how many thousands would have been killed,” he said. “I am very proud of what we achieved,” including stopping the spread of communism and helping the South Korean people.

He was a teenager when World War II ended and he remembered the proud feeling of welcoming soldiers. There was no similar homecoming for veterans of the Korean War, he said.

Oneonta American Legion Commander Len Carson said while the Korean War is not acknowledged by most people, “it is not forgotten.” It’s unfortunate that those veterans as well as others who served their country don’t get more recognition.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in a media release that “Korean War veterans stepped forward to serve at a defining time in our history, and they deserve our thanks.”

The United States remains committed to ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. More than 28,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serve in Korea today.

Oneonta resident Norman Anderson, 83, lived in West Babylon when he was drafted, He served from April 1951 through April 1953 in the 23rd Signal Construction Battalion that was part of the 8th Army. He worked on building the copper telephone lines from Pusan to the front lines, ending north of the 38th parallel that divides the two Koreas.

The war may have been forgotten by the press or media, but he sees it as important in stopping “communist imperialism.”

But, he noted, the cease-fire that was signed to stop the fighting was just a “worthless document” that he compares to the armistice that ended World War I. Just as the latter did not stop World War II, there is an uncertain peace that requires tens of thousands of U.S. troops today. Because the West did not achieve a “total surrender,” the world still has to endure the military threats, and actions from North Korea.

Sidney resident Raymond Haag, 83, said he graduated from Columbia College and received a commission in the Navy in 1952. He had been living in Albertson at the time. He served during the Korean War on an oil tanker in the 7th Fleet.

“I learned a lot and got see a lot of different things,” but today “I don’t give it much thought.” He has no problem with the recognition he received for his service. He left the Navy in 1956.

“Overall, it was a good experience,” he said.

The Korean War made a big difference for the people of South Korea, he said. But, the allies “should have finished what they started.” The results today are the current actions of North Korea.

Middlefield resident Robert O’Con, 81, said he served in the Navy during the Korean War, but he was stationed in a submarine squadron in San Diego. While they were in several locations in the Pacific Ocean, they never went to Korea.

When he graduated from Baldwin High School in 1950, he knew he would be drafted, so he he joined the Naval Reserves and requested active duty.

At the time of the cease-fire, “everyone wanted to come home,” so he was glad it was signed. In retrospect, he said Gen. Douglas MacArthur had the right idea when he said “There is no substitute for victory,” he said.

MacArthur was the commander of the American-led coalition of United Nations forces, until relieved by Pres. Harry Truman. If that had occurred, “the world would have been a better place,” O’Con said.