Robert Haas sat in the front row on Saturday, gazing across the 70-year-old expanse of the black granite wall with the names of the dead.
Eighteen hundred and twenty-two names — columns and columns of names carved in stone. All the soldiers and sailors from Ohio who died in America’s Forgotten War.
Haas had served there, where American troops fought newly communist China on Korean soil, commanding a platoon near the 38th parallel.
Now in his 94th year, he had not forgotten.
“Something special about these guys”
It rained on Saturday while Ohio Veterans Memorial Park to Clinton dedicated the engraved names of 1,822 Ohioans killed in the Korean War. On the other side of the wall, the names of 3,095 Ohioans killed in the Vietnam War are engraved.
Gary Kindig, chairman of the memorial park, said from his experience that Korean War veterans are distinguished by their humility.
“Korean War veterans, there’s something very special about these guys,” he said. “They are very shy about their service.”
The conflict, which took place from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953, is often referred to as the “forgotten war”. Sandwiched between World War II and the Vietnam War, it is considered by many historians to be the start of the Cold War and featured Chinese and North Korean forces using Soviet weapons against a compound UN force mainly – about 90% – American troops.
In total, more than 36,000 Americans died during the war, and another 92,000 were injured.
The back and forth of the battle
Haas was joined by several Korean War veterans from the Akron-Canton area, all seated under an open tent as the rain pattered on the canvas above.
With friends and family of veterans packing the tent, speakers braved the rain outside by the wall, putting the names etched behind them into context.
George Theodore, who served in the US Air Force from 1951 to 1959, said the US effort in Korea was noble.
“Seventy-five thousand North Korean and Chinese (troops) attacked in 1950 (with) Russian equipment,” he said. “The United States entered the war because our effort was to stop communism.”
At the cost of heavy loss of American life, they arrested him.
North Korean forces crossed the border into South Korea on June 25, 1950, less than five years after the end of World War II. Three days later they captured Seoul. The major South Korean city changed hands four times during the war.
On July 1, the first US ground troops arrived in South Korea as North Korean and Chinese troops continued their advance. But with US and UN forces in the country, the tide has turned.
By September, US and UN forces had recaptured Seoul and advanced to the Chinese border. China expanded its involvement and North Korean forces pushed back.
Fierce battles took place and territory changed hands as armies moved back and forth.
’28 rounds’ fired at an American soldier during the Korean War
The fighting produced heroic efforts by American soldiers, said Frank Thomas, a former associate vice president at the University of Akron and a Korean War veteran.
Thomas told the stories of soldiers from Ohio whose heroism stood out in the midst of battle.
One of them, John Stiles, survived until 2020 after being shot numerous times during the war.
“John took 28 rounds of ammunition into his body,” Thomas said.
Some of the bullet fragments were never removed, he said.
Stiles’ chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association dedicated a memorial bench in July 2020 to recognize Ohioans killed in the Korean War. A few days later he died, pieces of the war still with him.
“Intense and vicious” fighting during the Korean War
Del Estep, a resident of Northern Township, served at K-9 Pusan Air Base in 1952 and 1953, working on B-26 bombers.
Planes flew at night, with flares as a guide, he said. In daylight, they were too vulnerable to Korean jets.
Estep said the troops he served with were stoic about their mission.
“You just did your job and that’s it,” he said.
Haas said the fighting his platoon saw was “very intense and vicious”.
“The fighting in 1953 was very intense,” he said. “I lost staff.
Conditions were sometimes as extreme as the enemy, with temperatures dropping to 40 or 45 degrees below zero, he said. His platoon operated near the 38th parallel, attacking enemy supply lines that became vulnerable when Chinese and North Korean forces overextended their advances.
“We saw a lot of action to prevent the enemy from transporting supplies and ammunition to their units,” he said.
Seventy years later, he still wondered how the weather could get so extreme in a country near the same latitude as Ohio.
A History of North and South Korea
Haas said history shows the effort to preserve South Korea has proven worthy.
“I am extremely happy that we were able to help them and save their democracy,” he said.
This effort led to a stark difference in the fates of the two Koreas. In 2019, South Korea’s gross domestic product per capita was estimated at $42,765. That of North Korea, in 2015, was estimated at around $1,700.
Kindig said the war and its veterans deserve to be recognized and remembered for their sacrifice.
“It really is the forgotten war,” he said. “This country should know more about the Korean War.”
Théodore gave a resolutely sober and patriotic message to the dedication.
“There is no better country on earth than the United States,” he said. “There are graves all over the world with the bodies of our veterans.”
Leave a message for Alan Ashworth at 330-996-3859 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconj.