Honoring our Korean War vets

They have a certain quiet dignity about them, our soldiers of past wars, wars fought 60 years ago. Though called the Greatest Generation, they never boast of their heroism for they know that the sadness of war far outweighs the glory.

This all came back to me Saturday as I covered the ceremony at the Wyoming National Guard Armory in Lovell where members of the 300th Armored Field Artillery Battalion received the Navy and Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation for their “extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces in Korea” from June 6, 1951 through Sept. 25, 1951.

Guardsmen Mike Laird of Greybull and Sam Holte of Teton Valley, Idaho, greeted and introduced the local members of the 300th, and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso pinned a medal on each veteran or surviving spouse.

Each soldier received his medal with calm respect for the occasion. There was no whooping and hollering, though Sen. Barrasso acknowledged that the unit’s honor was long overdue.

The Korean War is known as the Forgotten War, perhaps because a war-weary America didn’t pay as much attention to that war compared to World War II, perhaps because the threat to the homeland didn’t seem as imminent or perhaps because the war was historically overshadowed by the larger World War before and the Vietnam War to follow.

President Harry Truman even initially called it “a police action.” And yet thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of others died fighting in that “police action.”

The Korean vets did not endure the scorn that later Vietnam veterans experienced when they returned from that “unpopular” war, but neither were they honored like the World War II vets of the previous war, though many fought in both.

What is worse – to be scorned or to be forgotten?

But those who fought in Korea will never forget the battles they fought or the conditions they endured. They will never forget facing down communist North Korea and the prospect of Chinese soldiers pouring across the border.

And we must not forget our soldiers who fought in Korea as their ranks grow thinner. For those who were honored Saturday, they must have felt a sense of satisfaction and pride as the Marine Corps recognized their service and contributions to that phase of the war.

So good was the 300th that they were known as the Cowboy Canoneers, artillerymen who could rapidly fire off howitzer shells like an Old West gunslinger.

Perhaps most moving was the interaction between the vets of 60 years ago and the guardsmen of today who were present for Saturday’s event. Many shook hands following the ceremony, and in more than one case a young guardsman was the grandson of someone the Korea veteran knew well. They share a kinship, whether they fought in Korea or in Iraq.

We owe our Korean War veterans our gratitude and appreciation, just as we thank and appreciate our soldiers from all eras who have fought to keep us free. Saturday’s ceremony was a great event and a long overdue public acknowledgement from a grateful nation and the Marine Corps.

There were around 140,000 casualties among American servicemen serving in Korea from 1950-53, including more than 36,000 deaths. More than 5.7 million men and women served. They must not be forgotten.

Saturday, our Korean veterans took it all in stride, as they did 60 years ago. But I think I detected a twinkle in their eyes. Or was it a tear?

By David Peck