Veterans

July 26, 2013

Wounded vet reflects on Korean War 60 years after armistice

Retired Army Col. William Weber, 87, who lost an arm and leg during the Korean War, said he’s proud of what he and his fellow Korean War veterans accomplished and what those who have served in South Korean ever since have preserved.

 
WASHINGTON, July 26, 2013 – With plans to participate in ceremonies in Washington, D.C., July 27 marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice agreement, a veteran who lost two limbs in the conflict said he’s proud of what thousands who fought there accomplished — and what those who followed in their footsteps have preserved.

Retired Army Col. William Weber was a young lieutenant when he arrived in Korea with the 187th Airborne Regiment Combat Team in August 1950, joining U.S. Marines on the ground in the bloody Battle of Seoul.

Five months after his deployment, Weber was severely wounded – first by a strike that claimed his arm shortly before midnight on Feb. 15, 1951, and another attack several hours later that took his leg. He was evacuated to an Army hospital in Tokyo to be stabilized before his transfer to the Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, Mich., one of three military facilities that specialized in amputee care.

Now approaching his 88th birthday, Weber still vividly recalls the frustration of prolonged ceasefire negotiations that started shortly after he medically evacuated from Korea dragged on for two years before the armistice was reached.

Half of the casualties of the war – in which 36,574 U.S. troops died and another 103,284 were wounded – occurred as the talks languished, Weber noted.

“It was a travesty of common sense on the part of the communists,” he said. “They are the ones who delayed it because of demands they made and the hope that they could achieve politically what they couldn’t achieve militarily.”

Even today, 60 years after the United Nations, North Korea and China signed the armistice agreement, Weber expressed disappointment that the final peace treaty that was to follow within 60 days never materialized.

Retired Army Col. William Weber was a young lieutenant with prior enlisted service during World War II when he deployed in 1950 to Korea, where he lost two limbs.

That has left the two Koreas still technically at war, and Weber expressed dismay over North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s public nullification of the armistice earlier this year.

Yet Weber is quick to note the significance of what he called “a significant benchmark of the 20th century.”

“It was a catalyst that began the downfall of the attempt of communism to dominate the world,” he said.

Weber, who served in World War II as well as Korea, sees a common thread.

“I like to remind people that World War II saved the world for democracy. Korea saved it from communism,” he said. “That is where we drew a line in the sand as a free world, and indicated that we would not allow armed aggression to conquer a free people. And since that time, it never has. The world took a stance and it worked.”

Yet like many of his Korean War comrades, Weber said, he remains perplexed that it remains known as “the Forgotten War.”

“If you look at history books that teach children about American history, it is a three-paragraph war,” he said. Most of what’s written focuses not on the war itself, but on the controversy between then-President Harry S. Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, he noted. Truman fired MacArthur as commander of U.N. military forces in South Korea in April 1951.

The United States was preoccupied during the Korean War, Weber said, still reveling as troops home from World War II went to school, re-entered the job market and settled down to start families. “It was la-la land,” he said.

The last thing most Americans wanted at the time was the distraction of another foreign war, particularly one that initially started as a “police action,” he said.

Yet that police action escalated. At the height of the war, about a half-million U.S., United Nations and South Korean forces found themselves arrayed against 1.5 million Chinese and North Korean forces.

“Nowhere during World War II did American forces ever face as many enemies in such a short frontage as in Korea,” Weber said. “It was the bloodiest foreign war in terms of the percentage of casualties we have ever fought.”

Weber rattled off statistics to back up his claim: The chance of those serving being killed or wounded during World War I was 1 in 22; during World War II, 1 in 12; in Vietnam, 1 in 17.

“If you went to Korea, you stood one chance in nine of being killed or wounded,” he said. “American [service members] died at the average rate of 1,000 a month and were wounded at the rate of 3,000 a month for 36 continuous months on a peninsula that was only 160 miles wide.”

To help honor that sacrifice, Weber served nine years on the the presidentially appointed advisory board that led to the dedication of the Korean War Veterans Memorial on Washington’s National Mall in 1995.

The memorial features 19 seven-foot-tall stainless steel soldiers on patrol, the wind blowing their ponchos as they move across the landscape.

But to Weber, who chairs the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation, the memorial honors those who served in Korea, but not who made the ultimate sacrifice. He and many other Korean War veterans hope to one day erect a glass remembrance wall that lists those who died in the conflict.

“The American people have never been told the cost of that freedom [won in Korea]. Well, it is 36,574 dead and 103,284 wounded in 36 months of continuous, unbroken combat,” Weber said. “You won’t find anything like that anywhere in America’s history of foreign wars.”

Visiting South Korea for the first time since the war in 2002, Weber said he has no doubt that the sacrifices have paid off.

“I saw firsthand the amazing things the [South] Koreans have done with the freedom that we have enabled them to have,” he said. “A population and a nation that was decimated has become the 12th-largest economy in the world.”

Weber said he remains struck by the gratitude the South Korean people continue to show for those who came to their defense.

He noted, for example, the ongoing Korea Revisit Program, paid for by the South Korean government, which provides Korean War veterans free hotel rooms, meals and tours of Korea.

“It’s an unbelievable thing, the respect and admiration they have for Americans and their U.N. counterparts because of what they did to save their country,” he said.

With the average Korean War veteran now 84 years old, and the population declining by about 700 a day, Weber said, America’s memory of the Korean War is likely to fade as well.

Even after tomorrow’s commemoration, expected to draw thousands of the half-million living Korean veterans to the National Mall, Weber is pragmatic about what will follow.

“I predict with certainty that right after the 27th of July, the Korean War will fall back into the cracks of history again,” he said.

What will keep it alive, he said, is the legacy left by those who fought in the Korean War and of the service of those who have continued to defend South Korea during the past six decades.

Since the signing of the armistice, North Korean attacks have killed 100 U.S. and more than 450 South Korean troops.

Today, 28,500 U.S. forces continue to serve in South Korea, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their South Korean counterparts to provide security on the peninsula.

“They are trip wires,” Weber said. Even with the South Korean Army now holding the demilitarized zone created by the armistice agreement, “the Americans are there, so the North Koreans know that if anything started, the United States would be involved,” he said.

Together, they continue to demonstrate the commitment Webber and his fellow Korean War veterans made six decades ago, he said.

“You can take a good, hard look at what Korea is today and realize that, at one part of our history, we were responsible for that happening. We saved a free people and kept them free and gave them an opportunity to take advantage of their innate ability to progress as a nation,” Weber said.

“One can’t possibly look at the South Korea of today without accepting the fact that what we did there was justified and necessary,” he said. “So you tell me: Why is it an unknown war in the id of American culture?”

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Remains of U.S. soldier killed in ’53 identified

Lawrence Jock’s surviving relatives in northern New York knew next to nothing about the Army combat veteran who was declared missing in action at the end of the Korean War more than 60 years ago. Now that his remains have been identified and will be brought back to the North Country for burial, his relatives...
 
 
Army photograph by Lisa Ferdinando

President awards Medal of Honor to former Army staff sergeant

Army photograph by Lisa Ferdinando President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor to former Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts at the White House, July 21, 2014. Pitts received the nation’s highest military honor for his action...
 
 
Army photograph by Lillian Boyd

Medal of Honor recipient Ryan Pitts inducted into Hall of Heroes

Army photograph by Lillian Boyd Former Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts, Medal of Honor recipient, is inducted into the Hall of Heroes during a Pentagon ceremony, July 22, 2014. Former Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts was inducted into the Pentag...
 

 
Marine Corps photograph

DOD identifies missing World War II Marine

Marine Corps photograph Marines wounded during the landing on Tarawa in November 1943 are towed out on rubber boats to larger vessels that will take them to base hospitals. The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office...
 
 
Air Force photograph by SrA. Sarah Hall-Kirchner

Airman’s remains returned home 62 years after his death

Air Force photograph by SrA. Sarah Hall-Kirchner Members of the Scott Air Force Base Honor Guard transport the remains of Airman 3rd Class Howard Martin during a dignified arrival July 10, 2014, at the Indianapolis Internationa...
 
 

Acting VA secretary outlines problems, actions taken

In testimony before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs July 15, Acting VA Secretary Sloan D. Gibson outlined serious problems regarding access to health care and key actions the department has taken to get veterans off waiting lists and into clinics. “The trust that is the foundation of all we do – the trust of...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>