Red Cross honors Korean War vets

May 16, 1999

Korean War vetsBy BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

Ernest Richard Rider walked into St. Josephs Catholic Church carrying a personal history in a brown paper bag.

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He slowly removed old papers and mementos, emptying the bag's contents onto a table in the parish hall.

He dug a handful of metal from the bottom, setting down his dog tags and shrapnel. "That piece was hot when I picked it up," he said, pointing to a jagged shard that landed in his bunker.

He set down a New Testament, bent like it had been in a back pocket. Dates on the inside leaf told the story of a journey from Marine boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., to the South Pacific.


A yellowed front page of a San Francisco Examiner from Aug. 23, 1953, showed the U.S.S. Gen. Nelson M. Walker dockside. It was the vessel that brought Rider home at age 23.

Amid the telegrams and clippings, he set a brass picture frame made from old shell casings. Below a black-and-white image of a fresh-faced marine, a single word etched in the metal said simply: Korea.

To honor those who served in that country, the American Red Cross held a recognition ceremony Sunday afternoon at the Hagerstown church. Veterans like Rider brought memorabilia as they gathered to remember "the forgotten war."

It began Jan. 25, 1951, when communist troops invaded South Korea. It officially ended with a truce on July 27, 1953. The clash that occurred between those dates isn't as easy to define, and neither was the result.

It is often called the Korean "Conflict" because the U.S. Congress did not declare war. To the 500,000 Americans deployed, the fighting and suffering was severe, regardless of the label.

It is called "forgotten" because it did not achieve the infamy of other conflicts such as Vietnam. As a result, many veterans of the Korean War have had little recognition.

"Most of the American people didn't know what ... was going on," said Army Col. William Weber, speaking at Sunday's gathering. "It just wasn't a big deal to most Americans. Why? Because our homes weren't threatened."

It isn't a forgotten war, he said. "It's an unknown war."

Americans were involved in the Korean War for a longer time than in any other conflict on foreign soil, he said. The ratio of men killed to men deployed was 10 percent, also more than any other foreign war, according to the colonel.

Veterans will be given their due in the future when historians recognize the war's true benchmark, he said. "It was the catalyst that produced the downfall of world communism. That will become a fact- sadly, too late."

Although some believe the Korean War was lost, Col. Weber disagreed. "We didn't go to Korea to win a war," he said. "South Korea remained free then and remains free now.

"That may not be victory as the American people have been conditioned to evaluate it ... but we stopped communism from forcibly overrunning a free people."

As Col. Weber's impassioned speech reached its conclusion, he praised the veterans for defending another nation. "You did something unique," he said, pointing to them.

"You went for other people. You went to preserve their freedom, not your own. You went to preserve their homes, not your own. You went to preserve their way of life, not your own."

About 30 veterans, most of whom served in Korea, attended the ceremony. At the end of the service, Cindy Blackstone Kline thanked them on the Red Cross' behalf.

Dressed in a "gray lady" nurses uniform, she said, "We did what we could to boost your morale and serve you as you served your country."

The Red Cross provided several services to Americans during the war, including emergency communications, supplies and blood. Many veterans were thankful for creature comforts when they came home.

"The best part of that San Francisco experience was the hot coffee and donuts," said Roland F. Smith. "We were ready for that."

Smith, who was in the Signal Corps in the conflict, brought many mementos to the church, including Korean playing cards, a "Spoken Korean Basic Course" textbook and photos of Taegu, Seoul and Pusan.

"You put it away in a dusty closet and forget about it," he said of his memorabilia. But veterans never truly forget. As Smith admired another display, he said thoughtfully, "It brings back memories."

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