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July 22, 2013

Korean armistice received with relief locally in July 1953

By Mark Simonson
The Daily Star

---- — Some of our area’s parents, family and friends of their loved ones fighting over in Korea must have gone to bed Sunday night, July 26, 1953 feeling some relief. President Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the nation on TV and radio that night to report on the meaning of the Korean armistice just about an hour after the signing of the documents at Panmunjom. It ended three years and one month of deadly undeclared warfare in Korea.

The Oneonta Star newsroom was a busy place that night, as the president’s address came at 8 p.m. Local reaction to the armistice was sought quickly in order to get the press running for the Monday morning paper. A reporter spoke with Fred L. Braun, the manager of the Oneonta Hotel.

“I think everyone is happy about the signing of the truce, but that does not eliminate the real issue. The real issue is Russia versus the free world…Communism versus freedom. Ending the Korean war does not solve that issue. However, let’s hope the truce may be a step in that direction,” Braun said. 

Braun’s comments reflected similar optimism mixed with skepticism by others who were interviewed.

On Wednesday, July 29, local residents were also glad to learn how Allied prisoners of war, 3,313 of them Americans, would soon begin the march out of Communist captivity, as some had languished behind the stockades in North Korea for nearly three years. Gradually a few returned home to our area.

Oneonta celebrated this and the armistice with a dance on Thursday night at the New Windsor Hotel, then found at the corner of Wall and Chestnut streets where the NBT Bank stands today. Don Prince and his Pennsylvanians provided the music.

Two years and nine months of anxiety ended on Tuesday night, Aug. 12, for Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Althiser, who resided about a mile north of Worcester. Their son, Sgt. Rae M. Althiser, had been among those released from a POW camp. The family didn’t have a telephone, but heard about his release while Althiser’s mother was at work at Walt’s Restaurant, a popular stop for many years on state Route 7. Someone had seen Rae’s name on TV among those released and called the restaurant around 11:20 p.m.

Sgt. Althiser, the youngest of five sons, had three brothers who had served in World War II. Rae Althiser was with Company G, 8th Regiment, First Calvary Division. He had enlisted in the Army in March 1950 and was in Korea by July.

It was a long return home. Sgt. Althiser was a passenger on the U.S. Hospital Ship, which arrived in San Francisco on Sept. 4, 1953. Althiser had suffered some wounds while in the prison camp and needed hospitalization. He was brought to St. Albans Hospital in Queens before returning home.

The news was not good for Roscoe Weldon of Westford, as he was notified that his son, Pfc. Harold D. Weldon, had died in a Korean prison camp. This was the first word Mr. Weldon had received about his son since being reported as missing in action in November 1950.

Word came across the Associated Press wire in the Oneonta Star office about 2 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 5, that Lt. Col. Bert Santora of Oneonta was free from the Korean camps. His wife, Margaret Santora, didn’t have a phone, so the good news was delivered at 6 a.m. by Oneonta police officers Alvin Nichols and Alphonse Pizza. Her next-door neighbor on East Street did have a phone, and called Margaret to their phone that morning, as Bert was on the line from Japan.

Col. Santora had just heard that his father, Joseph Santora of Meridale, was in the hospital in Delhi, a patient after a heart attack. That became grounds for an immediate trip home. He left Tokyo on Sept. 8.

Oneonta had planned a big welcome home reception for Col. Santora, but told the planning committee while he deeply appreciated the honor, he didn’t want to be singled out for his service. A committee member, Edwin R. Moore, said Santora told him that honors should go to those in Korea who gave more than he did, namely their lives.

This weekend, a future Baseball Hall of Famer and his team barnstormed Oneonta in August 1923.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.