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SC Korean War veteran: History won’t forget ‘the forgotten war,’ and neither should we

(On July 27, 1953, an armistice agreement signed by the U.N., North Korea and China continued the division of Korea, and ended the Korean War. The next day, Robert Warden, now of Hilton Head Island, boarded a ship for home. He served in the U.S. Army 17th Infantry Regiment as a 60mm mortarman in a rifle company, and later as a radio operator in HQ Company during the Battles of Pork Chop Hill.

He made the following remarks at the Veterans Day service Nov. 11, 2016 at Veterans Memorial Park on Hilton Head.)

It’s not uncommon on commemorative days like this for historians and veterans’ groups to look back on wars and ask, “What was accomplished by it all?”

Sadly, even as we fought in Korea, it became the forgotten war. Few Americans wanted to know about the horrors that engulfed the peninsula. Once the guns were silenced along the 38th parallel — not in victory but in something called a ceasefire — most people just wanted to forget it.

But the sacrifices made by the American military in Korea during 1950-1953 did much to make the world we now live in less dangerous.

Many Korean War veterans have mixed emotions about their war. It was not even called a war for many years, although more than 36,000 Americans died and more artillery rounds were fired than in World War II.

No marching bands welcomed us home; no official receptions greeted us. Korea was a different kind of war — it was America’s introduction to the power struggle that consumed the world from 1945 on. In 1950, the flow was with the communist world. Neither the public nor the armed forces were ready to fight.

This was especially the case with a “limited” conflict waged far away for vital strategic reasons that, important as they were, were not the sort to move hearts and minds. Few of us were ready to die for Korea and many of us did not fully understand why we were ordered to defend it.

Yet most of us went without shirking or complaining.

As for the fighting, those who went know. Those who have been to wars understand. Those who have never gone to war will probably never understand. That’s what bands of brothers are all about. We did our job. No one can ask more of a soldier, sailor, airman or marine.

Few, if any, Americans ever waged war under worse conditions, from blazing sun to mind-numbing cold in a land where few places seemed flat. We did exactly what we were asked to do: repel the invaders and eject them from South Korea.

“Victory” was never ours to seek. Our government sensibly had no intent to defeat China. We had no intention of starting World War III. We hoped by checking aggression to prevent it.

With the invasion of South Korea, the world balance teetered. This is why President Harry Truman sent ill-prepared troops to Korea, some literally overnight. We paid the price for peacetime complacency and overcame the odds against us. To do this, we first had to defeat fierce North Koreans and then massive armies of Chinese.

Historians more and more now believe that the Korean War was a decisive action in the struggle against communism. While North Korea still remains a threat, it has never again tried to cross the border.

Korean War veterans came back unheralded and unsung. Some of that is being rectified today. We now know that we were the men who forged a victory of sorts (66) years ago. Our children and our children’s children live in a world we saved, as much as in any war, on the battlefield.

Of that, Korean War veterans may be proud.