Sixty-five years after the Korean War stopped without really ending, Gov. Pete Ricketts on Friday reassured veterans of what some call “the forgotten war” that their service is appreciated.
“We’re here to tell you … that your sacrifices are remembered, and honored,” Ricketts told a gathering of about 70 Korean War veterans in the Capitol Rotunda.
The governor was joined by South Korea’s deputy consul general in Chicago, Donghan Yang, who presented “Ambassador of Peace” medals to the Korean War veterans who were present, and to the families of those who had died or could not be there.
“Sixty-eight years ago, U.S. soldiers were sent to fight in a country they didn’t know, for a people they’d never met,” Yang said. “The Korean people will remember the courage and sacrifice of the U.S. soldiers forever.”
Ricketts issued a proclamation declaring Friday “National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day” in Nebraska. The armistice was signed July 27, 1953, bringing a halt to fighting that had begun three years earlier when Communist North Korea invaded South Korea, whose government was aligned with the United States and western democracies. A U.S.-dominated force under the flag of the United Nations joined the conflict on the side of South Korea, while China’s newly installed Communist government sent troops in to support North Korea.
The agreement halted fighting. But no peace treaty ever was signed. Neither side officially won the war. The two countries remain divided.
Ricketts noted the difference in the postwar development of South Korea, which rebounded to become a fully modernized and eventually a democratic country. North Korea remains largely undeveloped and is run by dynastic autocrats.
He also praised the bravery of U.S. fighting forces, taking special note of those who fought in the Chosin Reservoir campaign in November and December 1950. About 30,000 U.N. troops were surrounded by a Chinese force four times that size.
“They succeeded. They fought their way out and reached the sea,” Ricketts said. They suffered more than 5,000 casualties but inflicted enormous damage on their enemy. It was the pivotal battle of the war.
In total, 36,000 Americans died in the war, as well as more than 1.2 million South Koreans, said John Hilgert, director of the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs.
Lee Isom, 88, of Mullen, Nebraska, was an Air Force gunner in Korea from 1951-53. He said the thanks was a big contrast from the indifference he and other Korean War veterans experienced when they came home. He said one member of his local draft board asked him where he’d been.
“Now, 67 years later, they want to bring these things up,” he said after the ceremony. “It’s good to do it. I appreciate the medal.”
The medal was created by the South Korean Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs. Korean War veterans who are interested in receiving one may visit veterans.nebraska.gov/korea for information.
After the war, Isom returned to his old job, pumping gas and selling chicken feed. He later worked in a meat market, and served as a country treasurer for 20 years.
But ugly memories of the war remain, especially at night.
“It’s still there. It’s not gone,” Isom said. “When I wake up and sit on the edge of the bed, I thank God I’m in Mullen, Nebraska.”