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Korea: The forgotten war

Veterans vow to keep alive their memories of fighting in Korean War

POSTED: May 24, 2009 12:30 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS /The Times

Heyward Hosch goes through the chow line Wednesday evening at the Oakwood Community Center during the Korean Veterans of Georgia Inc.'s fish fry.

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Stuck between two other events that defined generations, the Korean War has unfortunately become a forgotten war for too many Americans.

But for the soldiers who fought in the Korean War, the war is forever burned into their memories.

"After World War II, most people were tired of war. It was a very demanding time. We had to throw everything we had in it — rationing food at home and supplying soldiers to fight. After those soldiers came home, they tried to put their lives back together, but within five years another war broke out," said Charles Sexton, a member of the Korean War Veterans of Georgia, Inc., which is based in Hall County.

"And then not long after things were over in Korea, the Vietnam War started, so we just got sandwiched between these two (bigger) wars and forget about us."

The Korean War officially began in June of 1950 and a truce was declared in July 1953. During that time span, 103,284 American soldiers were wounded, another 54,246 died and another 15,000 were declared either missing in action or prisoners of war.

Although the Korean War hasn't gotten as much attention as the wars immediately preceding and proceeding it, the event was no less important to the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who fought in the three-year war.

"I was drafted when I was 19 years old. After training I was supposed to be stationed on a hill over looking the (combat zone), but I ended up on the front line," said Rupert Cartwright, who served with the Army.

"I don't regret serving in Korea, I love my country. Even if others forget, there is a whole nation of people who are thankful for the sacrifices we made over there to secure their freedom," he said.

Sam Bang, of Goodwork Korea Inc., recently presented the Hall County veterans group with medals in appreciation for their efforts to help South Korea gain its independence during the Korean War.

The Korean War didn't just require the enlisted soldiers to make sacrifices, families also had to do without.

"We were married for five days before he had to leave for Korea. After that he was gone for two years," said Barbara Coker, who is married to Army veteran David Coker.

"It was tough being here working and knowing that my husband was there fighting. It was rough not knowing if he was safe or not."

Because the soldiers were not allowed to tell their families where they were or what was going on, loved ones had to wait until newsreels were played on television or in local theaters to know exactly what was going on in the war.

The local veterans aren't the only ones who feel that the Korean War has become the forgotten war. A group of veterans in Illinois currently have a national fundraising campaign going to create a Korean War National Museum, which will be located on a site in Springfield, across from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.

According to the museum's organizers, the Korean War was "the first armed struggle between Democracy and Communism, the first time the United States forces were racially integrated in combat and the first time United Nations members joined forces to defend a nation's freedom."

The Korean War was also full of firsts for many of the young soldiers- many of whom were straight out of high school and were from small town, U.S.A. The first time that many of them had been so far away from home. Even the first time that some of them had seen the ocean.

Times were rough abroad. Temperatures often dropped below 0 degrees and the soldiers often did know what to expect from one day to the next.

With no choice but to rely on each other, the soldiers found themselves becoming less like strangers thrown together and more like a band of brothers.

Even after the war was over, many of the soldiers remained close, often visiting each other, which worked out in Catherine Cartwright's favor.

"My brother volunteered to join the Army. He and (Rupert Cartwright) met on the train on their way to training. They trained together, served on the front-lines of Korea together and came home together," said Catherine Cartwright.

"(Rupert) came to visit my brother that summer. When I saw him, I thought he was the most handsome man I'd ever seen. We dated for three months through the mail and with weekend visits. And we got married that November in 1952. We've been together ever since."

Even as a young 19-year-old soldier, Paul Scroggs knew that although he was sacrificing youthful experiences for a more sobering existence in a war zone, he says he always knew he was doing the right thing.

"A lot of my buddies didn't want to go, but I volunteered. I wouldn't trade my time served for anything in the world," said Scroggs, who was on active duty with the Navy from 1952 until 1956.

"We didn't realize it then, but the Korean War really was the beginning of the political wars. It set the stage for Vietnam. Now whenever people have programs and show their appreciation for veterans they always mention World War II and Vietnam, but they never say anything about Korea."

As long as they live, the Korean War Veterans have vowed to not let the memory of their experiences fall by the wayside. Even though they have hung up their weapons, and retired their uniforms, the former soldiers say they will keep fighting for the respect they and their fallen "brothers in combat" deserve.

"We served with silent dignity," said Sexton.

"A lot of our soldiers died over there. Everyone seems to forget about the Korean War, but we can't forget."



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