Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

The Forgotten War

“It was a horrible experience,” recalls one local veteran who served in Korea

36,940 fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters.

That is the cost of the Korean Conflict in American lives.

Last Saturday marked the 60th anniversary of the end of the conflict, which spanned just over three years, from June 1950 to July 1953. This conflict is often overlooked in the history books of the world, acting as the middle child between the globe-consuming World War II and the infamous Vietnam War. For this reason it has earned the nickname “The Forgotten War.”

Dozens of men and women from Kimball, Potter and Dix served in the conflict in a variety of ways; some as members of base security forces and transportation convoys while others served at bases in the United States and Europe to help prepare soon-to-be-deployed troops for the hell that awaited them in Korea.

Following the conclusion of World War II, which claimed a staggering 416,800 American lives, the United States began a massive demobilization effort that continued until 1950.

Meanwhile, China was gripped by a civil war, and leaders in both Beijing and the Soviet Union began a deep relationship with North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung. With varying degrees of assistance, the three formulated a plan to re-unify the Korean Peninsula.

Two years prior, Ron Scott had been selected as a new recruit for the United States Army as part of a program created by the Department of Defense to help bring more “young blood” into the Army following the massive downsizing that took place in the aftermath of the second World War.

After spending one year with the Army, Scott left the armed forces, only to make the decision to return – this time to the Air Force – less than 90 days later. The year was 1949.

On Saturday, June 24, 1950, Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson informed the president of harrowing news.

“Mr. President, I have very serious news. The North Koreans have invaded South Korea.”

Scott spent the better part of the next two years at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, but was then transferred to Parks Air Force Base in California during the final months of 1951.

“I received orders that I was being deployed to the Far East,” said Scott. “I went over by boat with about 30,000 other guys, and went through indoctrination in Japan for about two weeks before being assigned to Korea.”

It took time for the American armed forces to regain much of their former luster, and even then, the Truman administration was cautious in outright intervention in the Peninsula.

The administration feared that once the United States intervened in Korea, war would escalate across Europe, pitting the two remaining superpowers, the Soviet Union and America, against one another.

Kimball resident Gordan Whartman’s path also led him on a collision course with the ongoing conflict in the Far East.

However, before he reached Korea, fate intervened.

“I was slated to go to Korea, but they were setting up a new embarkation-disembarkation base, and they needed help there,” the former Air Force Staff Sergeant said. “They needed supply people and I was a supply man, so that’s where I spent the next four years. We sure sent an awful lot of people over there to Korea.”

Thousands of United States men were drafted into service, and to this day, Whartman recalls the vast number that came through his base in England.

“I don’t know how many thousands we sent to Korea, and throughout that area,” Whartman said. “There were an awful lot of them though.”

By the time the calendar turned to 1951, the North Korean forces, known then as the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, were falling back, after controlling virtually all of the Korean Peninsula, apart from the southernmost tip – for much of the year prior.

Arne Christensen, a Supply Sergeant in the Transportation Corps, began serving in Korea that year, and would remain on the Korean Peninsula for some 17 months.

“It was a horrible experience,” Christensen recalls over sixty years later.

Christensen came ashore at the city of Incheon, and still remembers the sight that awaited him as he approached the shore.

“We went in on a transport just off the shore there, and we got our landing craft and went in,” Christensen said. “The beachhead had already been established there. We could see P-51s strafing as we were making land, but we didn’t encounter any fire while landing.”

Over the better portion of the next two years, Christensen saw a different type of enemy from those who were waging war on the front lines – an outdated road system.

“It was a challenge every time you had to move or go someplace,” Christensen said. “The roads weren’t built for semi-trucks that we were hauling in. We had quite a bit of loss, not just to combat, but to wrecks and overturns because of the kind of roads we had there.”

When these accidents happened, the men on the front line noticed. One local veteran who served in Korea saw conditions that still haunt him to this day.

“Sometimes, we had to cool it on the ammo, wear our fatigues for what seemed like forever – a month at a time,” recalled this local veteran. “One guy needed fatigues really bad, and the only thing the quartermaster could do for him was give him some they salvaged off a casualty, and they had blood on the front of the jacket and bottom of the fatigues.”

These hellish conditions plagued American troops for over three years – the duration of the conflict. However, as much of an enemy as the North Korean forces were, the elements made matters worse.

“The exposure is what sticks out the most,” said Christensen. “It was the most painful, the freezing. We just were absolutely next to freezing to death because we were just so damn cold.”

Another local veteran echoed these thoughts, saying, “When you start living in an environment that’s 15, 20 degrees below zero, trying to save yourself and do the best you can to get by is a real pain.”

After arriving in April in 1952, Ron Scott was lucky enough to avoid any open-combat situations during his deployment to the Korean Peninsula, but after several immediate reassignments upon his arrival, he encountered treachery in his very camp.

“We lived in a squad tent that we converted part of into living quarters, and the rest of it was offices,” Scott said. “There were several incidences were infiltrators would try to cut the canvas of the tent to try and get the (identification) badges that we had in our tent under lock and key.”

Scott, now over 80 years old, still remembers one of these attempted thefts.

“I caught one of them,” he says with a long pause. “I got a few knife cuts, but I captured the guy. I suggested to my squad commander that we turn him over to the ROK (Republic of Korea). The commander of the ROK came over with two other guys, and put him under arrest. I asked him what they were going to do with him, and he said, ‘It’s very simple. We’re going to put him in a uniform and send him up to the front lines.’ There was no doubt, that was a death sentence.”

Scott, who oversaw citizen work groups and base prisons, Whartman, who helped prepare American soldiers and supplies for combat in Korea and Christensen, who was responsible for moving materials across the continent in treacherous conditions amidst a warzone – local residents helped turn the tide in the Korean Conflict, and helped stem a tide of communism that had struck fear into the hearts of the American people.

However, with time, both these men’s and their fellow soldiers’ contributions have faded from the memory of most, destined to be overshadowed by World War II, the Vietnam War and most recently, the War on Terror.

“There’s no question it’s overlooked,” said Scott, his voice breaking. “It was a fast war. I’m just sorry we’re still there. I don’t think we should be. But with how North Korea is, I can understand it.”