As America marks the 60th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement July 27, 1953, four veterans from the Korean War Veterans Association, Indiana Chapter One, spoke about their experiences. Though Garry L. Sink, Carl Fowler, Edward Hagadorn and David F. Martin served in the army in different capacities in different arenas, they all agree on one thing: they fought the forgotten war.
'It was a war'
Japan had ruled the Korean Peninsula from 1910 until the end of World War II when it surrendered to Allied Forces. Korea was then divided along the 38th parallel, where U.S. military forces occupied the southern portion and Soviet military forces occupied the north.
In 1948, the north established a communist government, while the south became right-wing, which resulted in increased skirmishes along the parallel, as it became a political border and a battle line.
The Korean Conflict began June 25, 1950 when North Korean forces invaded South Korea.
“It was the first war of the Cold War,” Fowler said.
The north was supported by the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union, while the south was supported by the United Nations, which condemned the attack and recommended its member states (countries) support the south with troops, supplies and weapons. U.S. soldiers comprised about 88 percent of the troops sent overseas.
Martin said, “It wasn't a declared war, but people over there bled just as much.”
Hagadorn, 86, also fought in World War II and is one of the most decorated veterans in northeast Indiana. “I knew what combat was,” he said. “I knew it was a war.”
Sgt. First Class Hagadorn saw battle on the front lines — even behind enemy lines — during his 10 months in Korea. World War II military experience in the South Pacific and active reserves afterward reinforced his readiness for battle.
In one of Hagadorn's first intense battles with the Chinese, the battalion commander deserted, saying, “Every man for himself.” Hagadorn spoke about the incident at a reunion, which resulted in getting the commander court-martialed.
Also during one of Hagadorn's first battles, he spent eight days behind enemy lines and brought out eight men, one of whom later committed suicide.
Another time Hagadorn's men encountered another group of soldiers who felt Hagadorn was a Chinese soldier who could speak English well. The group quizzed Hagadorn's men on the state capitals, and when Indiana was mentioned, Hagadorn started to say Fort Wayne, but quickly changed his answer to Indianapolis to avoid being shot to death.
Cpl. Martin, 85, served 21 of 24 months in some of the worst battle locations: the Punch Bowl, Bloody and Heartbreak ridges and Old Baldy.
At the Punch Bowl, the enemy approached from behind, and Martin opened fire with his Browning automatic rifle (BAR). When someone asked about procedure in securing precise firing measurements, he said, “Hell, we just pointed it. We didn't follow procedure.”
Martin also recalled the time he sent mortars over the bodies of two men killed in the hole. “They hit us at night or when it was getting dark. They'd play bugles, there was banging, one time they played a record.”
Martin received a Purple Heart after a grenade hit. He spent time recovering from his injuries in a couple of field hospitals, a Swedish hospital ship and the 141st general hospital.
Cpl. Sink served on the front lines for a year in Kumhwa Valley. He also received a Purple Heart following a grenade attack while on patrol. Sink said he was pinned down during the ambush, and the enemy rolled grenades down the mountain side toward him. He couldn't stand up or he'd get shot. He received shrapnel in his legs, arms and flak vest, which he credits in saving his life. He received a blood transfusion immediately, but not without contracting hepatitis. He spent four months in M*A*S*H* and Tokyo hospitals. Upon his return to the front lines, one man in his unit turned white as a ghost because he was convinced Sink did not survive the grenade attack four months earlier and in denial told Sink he had died. Sink has continued to have health-related issues of the attack since returning home.
While Sgt. Fowler did not see war action, he received military training at Fort Bliss. Fowler was stationed for two years in Japan, specializing in radio communications.
Unlike soldiers who came home from World War II, Korean War vets did not experience the hoopla of a grateful nation.
Martin explained, “Korean vets came home on rotation. There were no parades. We didn't talk about the Korean War. The Korean vet got very little recognition.”
When Hagadorn returned home, he experienced nightmares. “Dad couldn't figure out what was wrong. I'd hear bugles, but eventually got over it,” he said. Hagadorn, who said he wanted some down time after returning to Indiana, began GE Apprentice School the day after he returned, and worked as a manager at GE for 38½ years.
Fowler, 83, returned aboard the USS Breckenridge. He found civilians couldn't relate to what he and other vets had gone through. “I first talked with other vets. Eventually we got so we could talk to others to tell our stories.”
“It was America's forgotten victory,” Sink said. “Because of what we did, South Korea is a very prosperous nation.”
Even with the armistice, Martin, Sink and Fowler remain concerned about war conditions between North and South Korea as North Korea tests missiles and other military devices in unauthorized areas. North Korea recently has revoked the treaty between the two countries.
“It could start up again,” Fowler said. “All Korean vets are concerned.”
“It is the longest war,” Sink said. “It is still going on,” referring to continued friction between the two since the signing of the armistice.
Hagadorn felt differently, however. “I don't think it will start up again,” he said. “China'll put an end to it. South Korea has got a good military.”
If North Korea pursues military action, Martin said, “I hope we end it once and for all. We're smart enough… No more limited warfare.”
Korean War Veterans Association
The Korean War Veterans Association, Indiana Chapter One, formed its charter in 1997 with the help of Congresswoman Jill Long, who also helped soldiers obtain medals and GEDs. Hagadorn was one of the original 28 members of the charter, and the association currently has 130 members. Sink, who joined in 2002, is commander.
Fowler, Hagadorn and Martin also participate in Tell America, a nationwide educational initiative, in which they speak to students and nursing home residents about their war experiences.
“We talk about experiences and what we went through,” Hagadorn said.
Fowler added, “We're aware schools don't have much information about the war.”
Memorial Day weekend also holds a special meaning to association members who also have given much to their country.
Sink, 81, said the association honors those who sacrificed all with a program the Saturday before Memorial Day, in which the list of deceased members of the chapter is read. “They gave their life for our freedom,” Sink said.
While these four men also have sacrificed much in serving their country, they continue to honor the men who did not come home.
“We honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Fowler said. “Some gave some. Some gave all. We'll never forget them.”