CAMP H. M. SMITH, Hawaii --
I’ve lived in the Pacific for more than four years, first in Japan now in Hawaii. I’ve always heard about the great exploits of World War II Marines.
Marines would talk about Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Tarawa, all the great battles where Marines proved their worth. It wasn’t until I attended the funeral of retired Lt. Col. Jack Lewis that I heard stories about another war in the Pacific; the Korean War.
One of Lewis’s closest friends, also a Korean War Marine, began telling me stories of Lewis’ and his own, stories that were just as courageous as the ones I’d heard about World War II.
At the time I didn’t realize the significance of what I was exposed to. A couple months went by and I had the honor of being an organizer for the Korean War Armistice Memorial Ceremony. Again I was surrounded by veterans of this war. They were living, breathing, walking history.
As I sat in the audience listening to a guest speaker he uttered the phrase, “the forgotten war.”
It took a funeral and a memorial before it dawned on me that one of the greatest times in American history has gone largely unnoticed.
It wasn’t until recent years that memorials were held to recognize these men, because unlike World War II or Vietnam, the war never ended.
The Armistice, signed July 27, 1953, was a cease fire, not a peace treaty. As a result, the men who fought in the war were not honored as others were.
Sure I heard about the battle at the Chosin Reservoir and the amphibious landing at Inchon when I was in boot camp, but at the time they were just the reflex answers to questions my drill instructors had spent months drilling into my head.
I’ve realized how fortunate we all are to live in a time where men that fought in those battles are still alive and well, that I can still sit down and talk to the Marines who were there.
More than 1,100 veterans die each day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs estimations.
The day the last Korean War veteran dies will be a tragedy for our generation. Their exploits are well documented but nothing can replace their first-hand accounts of what happened. Nothing could ever replace looking into the eyes of a man who was at the Chosin Reservoir, to see the tears, the smiles and hear the stories of the men who fought for freedom so long ago.
Hawaii has seen its fair share of Korean War veteran deaths in the past years. Obituaries with veteran’s names are published on a daily basis.
So what do we do? There’s nothing we can do to stop what is occurring but we can listen.
I challenge everyone, especially those who serve, to search them out, to meet these veterans and hear their stories. Allow the experience to mark you so one day you can pass their stories to generations to come, to keep the spirit of those brave men alive as long as humanly possible.
Never forget the sacrifices they made and never forget that freedom is paid for with the blood of young men and women who volunteer so others don’t have to. We can ensure that the Korean War is never forgotten again.