It was very hot and humid – the temperature reaching into the low 90s. But they kept coming through the entry gates – all being thoroughly searched before they gained entry. Each then were personally escorted by an usher (high ranking enlisted personnel and officers of all the branches of service) to a seat as close to the front as possible. When seated the usher handed each a bottle of water, a card with a boutonniere and some words on it, a poster and a newspaper and they were told to ask if they needed anything at all.
These were older men – most between 65 and 75 – and mostly not old enough to have served in World War II. Many were gray or graying – their bodies showing signs of more eating and less exercise than in their younger days. They moved slower and the heat affected them more today than it did then.
These men were treated with special care and the ushers kept delivering new bottles of water to replace the emptied ones. And more and more came through the gates being searched just as carefully as those that preceded them but then being treated very, very special.
The music was playing and over the loudspeaker came a voice telling about happenings 50 years ago on this date and the days that followed in a country half way around the world. The voice spoke of the Pusan Perimeter, the North Korean Army, the ROKs and the KMCs. The voice spoke of Inchon, Seoul, the 38th parallel and of places called Yudam-ni, Hungnam, Hagaru, Koto-ri, Hagaru-ri and the Chosin Reservoir. And the voice spoke of “Bloody Ridge,” “Heartbreak Ridge,” “Porkchop Ridge,” “The Punchbowl” and it spoke of helicopters being used for the first time in combat.
Yes – this day was June 25, 2000, the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of the Forgotten War in Korea and we were in Washington DC in a spot adjoining the Korean Memorial and being overlooked by the Washington Monument.
Some of the dignitaries on the stage were Secretary of Defense William Cohen, the Ambassador from Korea, Marine veteran, astronaut and former Senator John Glenn and the President of the United States – William Clinton which was the reason we were searched so thoroughly as we entered.
Each spoke in superlatives about those “who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” President Clinton said a man told him that the figures in the Korean monument are 7 foot tall which is not what those who fought there were. He said “when I remember the courage of those who fought there, they were all 20 feet tall.” The President said “there is no question that Korea was war at its worst but it was also America at its best.” And quoting legendary Marine Chesty Puller when told at the Chosin Reservoir that “the Chinese had them surrounded” Puller said “Good – now they can’t get away!” And the President said “We all know that Korea was not about Hawkeye and Houlihan but about honor and heroes!” And he said “you showed us by your example that Freedom is not Free but that it can be maintained!”
John Glenn spoke about those who saw their buddies killed along side them and of body bags and about pilots whose planes went down and about having to tell their nearest relatives that they would never come home again.
The Ambassador said people in America call it the forgotten war but it is not the forgotten war in Korea. All Koreans know about this war and all Koreans will forever be grateful to you who saved us from Communist slavery. “We are forever in your debt!”
Connie Stevens who sang with USO groups touring Korea was there also – talking to us and singing God Bless America. She received a standing ovation. And, by golly, she looked almost as young as she did then.
The Marine Drum and Bugle Corps performed for us in the beginning – getting us in the mood and making us forget how hot it was. They were followed by the Air Force band that played and sang many of the oldies which we will never forget – “Music, Music, Music,” “Till I Waltz Again With you,” “How Much Is That Doggie in Window,” “Bushel and a Peck,” “Unforgettable,” “Walk Over the Bridge,” “How High The Moon,” “Standing on the Corner Watchin’ All The Girls go by,” “Three Coins in a Fountain,” “Chances Are” and many more of those songs that sustained us when we were so far away. We were being transported back to the early fifties back to our youth and back to the days we had to leave our families and friends to fight in a land we barely ever heard of.
Tears and shivers of pride down our backs were plentiful on this day – our day. Pride as we were told how important our effort and our sacrifices were to future world peace.
And how it was through our efforts the Communist world learned that America would stand up to any aggression anywhere in the world so they better not try to gradually conquer the world. But – “FREEDOM IS NOT FREE” as the families who lost fathers, husbands, sons and brothers over there – never to return can attest to.
Then came an air display. Planes that were there when we were there including the lovely B-29 Super Fort that dropped the bombs that ended World War II and saved countless lives. And then the dead man formation of four planes with one dropping out. It was an awesome display and we cheered and clapped as they flew over our heads. And then it was over – over as quickly as it had begun and certainly faster than a war that seemed to drag on and on and on for those of us who were there and for those waiting for us back home. We had been anticipating this anniversary for quite some time and wondering how we would commemorate it. For those of us fortunate enough to be in our Nation’s capitol on that day we were brought back in time and we were there to receive the accolades we thought we’d receive when we sailed home – under that Golden Gate Bridge. But there were no bands then, no flag waving crowds only the lonely dock waiting for our ship to tie in. But on this day, June 25, 2000, we finally heard that our nation was proud of us and that we had done a good job to secure world peace. Fifty years later we finally had affirmed what we believed – that our sacrifices were not in vain and that we had done our part for world peace. History will remember us and will be grateful. When we leave this world we can now rest in peace.
PS – The words on the card with the boutonniere were ~ thanks from school children – thanks for defending their freedom. And who says all kids are bad today.
Kale Danberg, F-2-11, 1 st Marine Division 1951-52.