Some have called it “The Forgotten War.” But don’t tell that to the large crowd that gathered in front of the historic Cowley Town Hall Saturday afternoon to honor veterans of the Korean War.
They were there to dedicate a plaque listing Korean War vets from Cowley and to honor the men who served.
The war, fought between 1950 and 1953, included several veterans from North Big Horn County, who were activated to serve when the Wyoming National Guard was called up. Three of those local veterans participated in Saturday’s dedication, as well as a Vietnam War veteran.
Bob Baird was the keynote speaker and told of his experiences during the war. He said he started working at the armory when he lost another job, and before he knew it, he was shipping off to war.
“I don’t know if I’d gone if I was smarter,” he joked.
Baird was the motor sergeant for the 300th Armored Field Artillery Battalion and was both humorous and moving during his talk Saturday. He told how Major Simmons from the 300th AFA headquarters in Sheridan said the Service Battery soldiers from North Big Horn County were the most “upright” group of men he had ever served with.
Baird told about “Corporal Klinger” type of antics where the soldiers of the Service Battery would use any means necessary to obtain necessary supplies and parts, from sneaking truck springs out of a wrecking yard under the nose of the “regular army” to figuring that the soldiers advancing to the front needed a gas-powered generator known as a light plant more than an anti-aircraft battery well to the rear; otherwise, they’d be operating with candles. The Guardsmen snipped the wires and “requisitioned” the generator.
He also told about a truck driver from Brooklyn assigned to Service Battery who couldn’t drive and ended up crashing into a “duck” – an amphibious vehicle – head-on.
Baird grew more serious when he talked about the hardships of war, even noting the hardships faced by the enemy and the country where the war was fought. He said when the Chinese entered the war, they just about pushed the Republic of Korea and American forces “off the end of the country” but when the U.S. and allied forces cut off the Chinese from their supplies, the move turned the tide of the war and the Chinese soldiers were vulnerable, Baird said.
He recalled a long line of Chinese soldiers leaving the area and at first thought, “Why not shoot ‘em?” But then he realized that they were helpless and that shooting unarmed men shouldn’t happen.
“That was a change in my life,” he said. “I realized that not everybody needed to be killed.”
Baird said the war took a toll on Korea and those who fought there.
“There were a lot of close calls,” he said. “Everyone from Service Battery came home, but we were in a bloody fight. It tore up the country, and that made me think.
“It was a hard time over there. The army had to destroy all the places (the enemy) could hide, so the towns were devastated. I felt really bad and wondered if it would have been better if we’d left them to the North Koreans.”
Later, however, when Baird’s nephew, Gib Fisher, returned from his LDS mission, he told how vibrant and growing South Korea was, how Seoul was a modern city with high-rise buildings and a growing economy.
“They had built it all back,” he said. “The Koreans are appreciative of what we did.”
He showed a book given to Korean War veterans by the South Korean government a few years ago entitled “Korea Reborn” that shows the progress the country has made. One photo that stands out in Baird’s mind was taken from space and shows South Korea “ablaze with lights” in contrast to the mostly dark north.
“It came to me that we were doing what we should have been doing,” he said. “I decided what we did was well worth it. I’ve been glad ever since that we were a part of it. It was a great thing we did, and I feel a lot better about it.”
Cowley historian and former mayor Roland Simmons served as the master of ceremonies for the 1:30 p.m. program and said he was pleased with the large turnout, remarking, “I’m glad you took the time to come.”
After Louise Croft led the crowd in singing patriotic songs, Ken Blackburn Sr., a Korean War veteran, gave the invocation and also commented on the painting “The Cowboy Artillery at Soyang” by Mort Künster that was on display during Saturday’s ceremony. The painting depicts the Wyoming Army National Guard members of the 300th AFA in action during the war on May 18, 1951, with the soldiers from Wyoming firing an M7 self-propelled gun.
“This scene is real,” Blackburn said. “I’ve seen it hundreds of times.”
Following Baird’s remarks, Korean War vet Harold Cook unveiled the bronze plaque, which has been added to the veterans monument in front of Town Hall.
The plaque, sponsored by the Pioneer Museum and History Center board, bears 23 names of veterans who served during the time of the Korean War: Melvin Baird, Robert Baird, James M. Benson, Harold Cook, Porter Dalton, Douglas Givenrod, Dennis Godfrey, Miles Harston, Donald Harvey, Melvel Harvey, Wayne Kinser, Arthur Mayes, James McDermott, Uel Moore, Aaron Owens, Lloyd R. Partridge, Ralph M. Simmons, Walter C. Simmons Jr., Dean T. Smith, Scott Smith, Ira M. Sumner, Ralph Wilder and George Wilson.
Vietnam veteran Mac Crosby gave the benediction.
By David Peck