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Commentary: It is time to remember the Korean War

It was more than 65 years ago — June 25, 1950 — that North Korean tanks rolled acrossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea starting the Korean War.

This was a war that was never officially declared, was officially referred to as a military engagement, but would become known commonly as the “forgotten war.”

More than 100,000 were wounded during the Korean War, with more than 40,000 U.S. service personnel killed in action. The wounded and death rates were higher than Vietnam, especially if you consider the war length of just over three years. The killed and injured averaged about 1,000 per week.

It truly is the “forgotten war” for the many United States service personnel who served during the combat years, which lasted through July 27, 1953. In fact, the Korean War had not even ended when the U.S. News and World Report first called it the “forgotten war” in October 1951.

Not much has changed.

During the recent Memorial Day ceremonies, the World War II veterans still living were honored as the “greatest generation.” Vietnam vets were recognized as were recent veterans of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. Seldom is the Korean War and its veterans recognized. It was all deserved.

The Korean veterans today are in their mid 80s. Their service deserves to be remembered.

A large number of this veterans group are gone. Two Korean War veterans I know are deceased.

My father-in-law Elmer Bartels, now deceased, was in the U.S. Navy during the early 1950s and served on the USS Passumpsic, a fleet tanker, in the Korean theatre. The ship earned nine battle stars during its deployment.

Bartels once talked of his frustration about the Korean War being forgotten, but he was always proud of his “Korean War Veteran” license plates on his pickup.

A family friend, William Smith, now deceased, served in the U.S. Army in the early 1950 and was deployed to the Korean theatre. He served on battle lines and saw the horror of war first-hand, including experiencing an explosion that killed his radio operator and damaged Smith’s hearing.

Smith later in his life suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and eventually lost many of his memories. And when he could no longer recognize his own daughter, he remembered his service in Korea. His daughter, Susan Smith, now a songwriter, wrote this song, “He Talks About The War,” about his memories.

Granted, most Americans alive today were not born during the Korean War. Americans went off to war in a land most had not even heard of.

When those veterans first returned, they were initially even denied membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars as they had not served in an officially declared war.

South Korea was the first place America took on communism and made a stand. Today, South Korea is a top 10 economic power in the world and a strategic partner of the U.S. in the Pacific.

If you visit South Korea today, they have not forgotten the role the United States and its service personnel played in saving their country and helping the nation become the economic power it is today.

Korean veterans remember their struggles, the fears and the challenges of their war to save South Korea.

The least we can do is to remember their war — the Korean War.

Kelly Boldan

Kelly Boldan has been the editor of the West Central Tribune of Willmar, since joining the newspaper in October 2001. He has previously worked as the editor at the Bemidji Pioneer, also part of Forum Communications Co., and other daily newspapers, online Web sites, and weekly agriculture newspapers in Wisconsin, Texas and Minnesota. You can follow via Twitter at @KellyBoldanWCT or read about the Tribune's newsroom blog at: insidescoop.areavoices.com or the Tribune's blog at: westcentraltribune.areavoices.com.

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