Friday, June 26, 2020

Remembering the Forgotten War, 70 years later

Last week marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

You’d never know that given the activity on news feeds and social media. That anniversary was but a footnote.

That’s nothing new.

For many years this conflict has been known as “the Forgotten War” because, collectively, we as a nation have ignored it and its meaning because it was bookended by an epic World War and the controversies of the Vietnam War.

It’s rare that we discuss it and as we saw -- or more accurately didn’t see -- last week it’s rarer yet that we give the participants their just recognition and appreciation.

Consider this: Almost everyone can readily identify the center point of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC -- the restrained yet powerful Vietnam Wall -- but how many can identify the primary image of the Korean War Memorial?

For those who don’t know, the memorial, finally built in 1995, is a collection of 19 statues of American soldiers trudging across rough terrain, harried looks on their faces anticipating the next surprise attack.

That haunting memorial perfectly represents the Korean experience. It was a frightening war, full of dreadful fighting reminiscent of World War I’s close-quarters bloodbaths. None of us today can imagine the stressful horrors of scaling a steep hill, wondering if the barrel of an enemy’s gun will be at your head at the next rise. Our soldiers paid a heavy price in life and limb and those who survived saw things on a daily basis that no one should ever see, memories they carry with them to this day.

It started off horribly as more than 1,000 inexperienced and under-equipped young soldiers were cut down in one of the first American battles of the war, U.S. and U.N. forces greatly underestimating the power of the North Koreans. The body count remained high throughout the three-year occupation when battles in extremely rugged and dangerous mountain terrain became the norm. The war was so violent that come 1953 — after both sides each lost more than 1 million soldiers — it ended with an armistice, a cease-fire that left a ravaged land and its two primary nations in no better shape than before the war.

It was a brutal affair, but so few know that. Ask anyone to list in order the three U.S. military involvements of the past 100 years that had the highest number of casualties. Most respondents will answer incorrectly. They will answer in a hurry, and correctly, with number one (World War II) and number two (the Vietnam conflict). After some stumbling over a response for the third slot, most everyone will come back with the nation’s most recent wars in and occupation of Iraq, responsible for more than 4,400 deaths.

That is the wrong answer. As horrific as that death toll is, it is dwarfed by that of the Korean War. The bloody conflict accounted for the deaths of more than 34,000 Americans and the wounding of 103,000 more from 1950 to 1953.

It’s really a travesty that most Americans are grossly uninformed in regard to something so great in scale of sacrifice. It seems that their only knowledge of the War is MASH, the classic television series.

We need to change that and use the 70th anniversary as a means to finally celebrate the real-life heroes, especially since time is of the essence. Less than 40 percent of those who survived their service in the War are still alive today. They are in their twilight years and they won’t be with us much longer. The youngest of the Korean War veterans turned 85 this year. The youngest!

As a country, we need to give them the love that is long past due. The Covid-19 world will likely stymie most memorial events, but you can do your part by sharing a simple heartfelt “thank you.” The Korean War veterans haven’t been told those simple words enough in their lifetimes. Let them know they weren’t forgotten.  

From the 29 June 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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