July 27 is a day when there will be no parades, no picnics, no speeches and no flags displayed. But to a very special group of people who served and fought for America, July 27, 1953, is the day that the Korean War ended. Those families who lost a loved one in that far-off country will not celebrate, but remember the prayers, pain and tears shed for their loved ones lost so long ago.
Many of you who are reading this may not have been born at the time of the Korean War. You will rightly think that 60 years is a long time ago. In Korea, I fought in a war in which I was wounded. As I was bleeding heavily from a bayonet wound, a Navy corpsman looked into my eyes and told me that if he did not stop the flow of blood, I would bleed to death. He sewed my wound and bandaged it up, and I went back to my brothers in the battle. A few weeks ago, I was attending a funeral dinner when a teenage boy, who I did not know, came up to me and showed me a picture of that Navy corpsman on his phone. My mind went back 60 years to that night when this 22-year-old man gave me six more decades of life. This particular corpsman was Congressional Medal of Honor winner John Kilmer, Seaman 2nd Class, U.S. Navy. This true hero gave his life three weeks after saving mine when he died while saving three Marines. I will never forget July 27, nor will I ever forget John Kilmer.
I will never forget the Korean people. I lived among them for over a year. I saw what war can do to a country. I saw the South Korean people trying to pay us back for coming to their defense as the North Koreans and the Chinese swept over their towns and villages. The cost to America in lives and money was great. No one ever said, “Was it worth it?” You would have to ask the people of South Korea who live there today. In almost every battle where Americans were being killed or wounded, Korean civilians, mothers, fathers, children and even grandparents would go among our dead and wounded and carry them down off the hills. To see four young children try to carry a soldier or Marine, each holding an arm or leg, is a sight one never forgets. I pray that we never see this in our country.
During the summer of 2011, I was able to visit the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. During my visit to the memorial, two Korean families approached me. They saw my Marine Corps hat and shirt. I told them that I was in their country many years before. They spoke in broken English or translated by their tour guide, but I knew everything they tried to say. They couldn’t thank me enough. One woman thanked me for giving her the family that she has now. We talked and then we cried openly and unashamed. No words can describe the hugs, the bows and even a few kisses that I got that day. I guess, at least for me, the question, “Was it worth it?”, can be answered: Yes, it was.
Please do not believe that I write trying to glamorize myself. I was only one of about 1 million Americans who found themselves in the Korean War. These included the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines. Approximately 1/3 were killed, wounded or missing in action. I do not want to portray myself as a hero, only a survivor. I write to tell people of the lives and the sacrifices that are part of veterans' lives. I want our citizens today to recognize what war means to a veteran and what it means to all our current military men and women who are serving our country today. I am proud to have served with so many young and not-so-young Americans. For me, the war provided a small but important part of my life that I will never forget. No one can see death and destruction in such a short period of time and ever forget it. Life is full of memories, some good and some bad, and I feel that I have had my share of both.
USMC, Korea, 1952-1953