Korean War veterans remember The Forgotten War with weeklong stay in South Korea

June 24, 2011|By DAN DEARTH |
  • Korean War Veteran Wayne Winebrenner just returned from Korea after 60 years.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Korean War veterans will never forget their time in hell.

From the day the conflict began 61 years ago today on June 25, 1950, until it ended on July 27, 1953, nearly 37,000 Americans lost their lives.

But to many Americans, the war became known as The Forgotten War.

"During World War II, you had the parades, the bands and all that," Korean War veteran Wayne Winebrenner said recently at his Hagerstown home. "During Vietnam you had hatred for the guys coming back. We were kind of in between. It seemed like no one cared."

Winebrenner, 78, said that all changed for him earlier this month, when he and 33 other Korean War veterans from across the nation were treated to a weeklong stay in South Korea.

The free trip was sponsored by members of the New Eden Church in Seoul to thank the veterans for coming to the country's rescue after communist forces from North Korea invaded in 1950. The Chinese military joined the fight against America and its United Nations allies later that year.

Winebrenner found out in February that the church was accepting applications from veterans to go on the trip, but he wasn't interested at first.

He said it took some encouragement from his son, Rick, to follow up on the offer.

"My son thought it would be nice to go," Winebrenner said. "I thought it would be interesting to see how things have changed in 60 years."

South Korea was a pile of rubble when Winebrenner, an 18-year-old private first class, landed there with the 1st Marine Division in 1952. He said his tank unit fought in several battles to secure strategic hills near the 38th Parallel.

 The most memorable battle came in March 1953, Winebrenner said, when he and the other Marines who were defending a hill that the military called "Vegas" were overrun by Chinese troops.

"We took it back, but the Marines took a lot of casualties," he said.

Winebrenner said he joined the Marines because young men at that time were expected to serve their country. He was discharged after serving for seven years.

In 1958, Winebrenner settled in Hagerstown and got a job as a correctional officer at the Maryland Correctional Institution off Sharpsburg Pike. He worked his way through the ranks to warden and retired in 1987.

Winebrenner said the South Korean people treated the veterans like royalty. They were put up in a five-star hotel, and given free air fare and meals. On occasion, the aging warriors were thanked by children and adults who passed them on the streets.

They also were escorted to the Demilitarized Zone, where they stood just feet away from South and North Korean troops as they guarded the border.   

All of the veterans returned home with several complimentary gifts, including a tea set, wristwatch, music box and digital camera.

The chief executive officer of Samsung gave each of the veterans a letter, saying that all South Koreans were in their debt.

"Due to your courageous actions, the Republic of Korea has been allowed to flourish into a developed country and companies such as Samsung have been able to grow in a vibrant society," a portion of the letter said.

Winebrenner said the thanks that the South Koreans gave the veterans made the trip worthwhile.

"It made you feel good. It made you feel proud," Winebrenner said. "I've always been proud of what I've done — serving. I think it took 60 years for it to sink in that what you did was really appreciated."

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