The Korean War is often dismissively labeled “the forgotten war.”
Not if you fought in it.
More than 36,000 Americans died in the three-year conflict between World War II and the beginning of the Vietnam War.
The 60th anniversary of the truce was Saturday. Much of the news coverage centered on events in North Korea, the parades, fireworks and excessive pageantry of Kim Jong-un.
That’s par for the course. Recognition too often escapes America’s Korean War veterans, except for what they get with exceeding grace from the country they aided.
South Korea hosts tours of its nation for the veterans who made it all possible. Veterans or their families pay half of the airfare. After they arrive, all expenses are covered for a five-day, guided tour.
“A trip of a lifetime,” is how Kansas Citian Russell Collins termed his June stay, which also included his wife, Zora Collins, and their son Michael Collins.
They toured sites around Seoul, Inchon and the barricades and fencing of the demilitarized zone where North and South Korean soldiers face off in stony silence.
The first time Collins went to Korea it took 21 days, by boat. Last month, the 81-year-old and his family traveled 14 hours by air from Detroit.
The progress of the country amazed him, from the bustling economy, modern towering high rises to a very Americanized way of dress and attitude.
“They have really rebuilt,” Collins said. “And they are so grateful. They wouldn’t have a country had we not been there.”
An infantryman, Collins had friends who died in the battles and friends who became prisoners of war. He returned home uninjured, ready to begin a 34-year career as a Kansas City fireman.
That’s exceptional considering some of the casualty-heavy battles he fought. One, in an area nicknamed Carson, had his unit relieving a Turkish brigade. They entered a valley and the mortar rounds began. Out of approximately 170 men who entered the battle, only about 35 to 40 men exited uninjured. Collins said the rest were either dead or seriously wounded, many burned by white phosphorus.
Nearly 8,000 American soldiers were never accounted for at the war’s end.
“The veterans are getting old and dying,” Collins said. “We just hope that people don’t forget about us.”