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Inside The Story: Three Veterans Talk About Korea - 60 Years Later
WATERLOO, Iowa - On Thursday, we sat down with three retired veterans from Eastern Iowa who served in The Korean War.
June 27, 1953 brought the ceasefire to three years of battle that killed 36,000 American troops on the Korean Peninsula. Sixty years later, retired Marine SSgt. Ken Lind, retired Army SSgt. Richard Sulentic and retired Army SSgt. Sid Morris shared their experiences.
KEN LIND, now 84, arrived in Korea in late 1950 at age 21, single and about to enter the war at its most dangerous and bloodiest point. His interview with TV-9's Chris Earl:
On his arrival:
"We were activated out of Waterloo and I was with the Marines reserve in August 1950. From there, we were sent to California. There were 90 of us in that group. When we got off the troop train, we were divided into 3 sections – people with former combat training were in one group. Most of those were our officers. The second group, which was where I landed, was people who had enough reserve time and a little combat training and the third group was mainly kids that just got out of high school and they were off to boot camp. The first group went over within a week to Korea. They were flown over. We went to basic training and we were shipped over at the end of 1950 to Korea. We were there just after the withdrawal of the Marine Corps from the reservoir and we were their replacement.
When I got there, they were being pushed back towards Pusan and the perimeter. We went out of Pusan and went up north from there. We were starting to make the trip up the peninsula again."
On the Weather of War:
"If you may or may not know, the 38th parallel basically runs through St. Louis. The only thing is a different elevation there. Yes, it got hot. It got sticky in the summer but by the time we got up into the winter area, it really, really got cold. A lot of snow but by then we were in the mountainous areas of Central and Northern Korea."
One Memory That Still Sticks:
"We were sent out for Operation Mousetrap (in May 1951). Our group, our battalion was the bait for this mousetrap. We were sent out into about 4 or 5 miles beyond the front lines. We set up there knowing the Chinese knew we were there and hoping they would hit us and we would counter that action. We sat out there for a week and nothing happened. We could hear the Chinese out there at night, talking. Nobody ever hit us. They pulled us back. We left late one afternoon and on the way back, we got a radio call. This was now getting dark and the radio from a group of tanks asked us why we didn't come through the lines and we said we weren't near the lines and, yet, the radio is telling you we're 3-4 miles away.... That encounter and you saw some of the pictures were 500 brand new Chinese troops that had never been in combat, new coming in and not one of them survived. They were caught in a horseshoe. They couldn't go up, couldn't come back. Worst slaughter I've seen."
On What He Is Proud of From Korea:
"The one thing that stands out were the orphans, the kids. We're talking about 8, 9, 10 years old that would come into our area when we were in reserve and they were just there to get food and clothing. They'd do anything you would tell them to do. They'd do your laundry, they'd run and do this and that. We really go attached to the kids . What hurt was when we had to go back into the lines, we would get rid of those kids and we had in my particular situation, we were sleeping in pup tents at a time – two to a tent – and we had this little guy in between us and I often wondered what happened to these kids. They were out there all by themselves."
On Coming Home:
"I was there just short of one year. When I came down with hemorrhagic fever. I was evacuated out and sent to Japan. I was there for two months before I was sent home."
On Being a Survivor When So Many Were Killed:
"We encountered that in the Marine Corps. Most of the time we were there, we were on foot. As the Army tends to be more mobilized. We got to see an awful lot of destruction, death of our side and their side and, yes, I often wondered how did I get by and they didn't. I guess it's not luck of the draw. I did have one close encounter where we got hit with one tank that was buried up to the turf – North Korean tank – that tank opened up on us on the back side of a ridge. We didn't know it was there. We had three rounds come in. 1. 2. 3. The third one and that's when I got hit and blacked out but we did destroy the tank." Note: SSgt. Lind earned the Purple Heart for his valor.
RICHARD SULENTIC, 83, saw the ceasefire in dramatic fashion in July 1953. He arrived in Korea as an Army media in January 1953, months after graduating from Loras College.
On His Role as an Army Medic:
"We were at what's called a clearing station. There was a battalion station that was right up on the line and that was where they treated the guys who were not wounded too badly. The next ones came out on helicopters to us and we treated the emergencies and the severely wounded, we shipped back to MASH, 5 miles from us. I'm going to guess we were three or four miles from the main line."
What Was He Most Proud Of From Korea:
"After the war and during the war, we treated everybody that came in. Koreans. Poor people. You can't believe how poor they were. When they came in on sick call, no matter how sick they were, they never complained. I can remember one guy with a severe wound and the doctor wouldn't get to him right away and, when he did, the doctor looked at him and the guy just never made a complaint. That struck me as unusual for those guys considering their cousins from the North were completely different. After the way was over, I went down to Seoul and I had a friend of mine who had to make an emergency phone call. All of the town was just shacks.
His Return to Korea in the 1990s:
"40 years later, I went back to Korea. My son-in-law was a dentist. He and my daughter who were stationed there and when I got back to Seoul, I couldn't believe it. It was like I was in Chicago or New York or any big city."
"I remember it vividly. It was 11 o'clock at night when they said they war is going to be over. There will be no more firing of any type of an arm. At about 10:30 or quarter to 11, my goodness, a barrage of shooting that went on and the flares that went on. Everybody was shooting their guns off. At 11, it was - BOOM, like a curtain. The war had ceased. There was no armistice. There was just a truce that still goes to today."
The War's Legacy:
"The Korean War was political, as far as I'm concerned. Not only was the Korean War but the Vietnam War and I just hated to see all these young guys going to the service. But all these young guys going to the service – the politics was out the window and they were there to do a job and they did a great job in all of those wars. I just cringe when I hear about another country like Egypt and whether we should send aid to them and bring our soldiers in. I'm adamant against that."
On Nearly Going To Vietnam Right After Korea:
"When I was ready to come home in '54, they put us on alert to be ready to go to Vietnam. Just a group of us. Our outfit – the Wolfhounds – the 27th Infantry Regiment is the first guys to go overseas along with the 1st Marine Division. I said, 'you can't take me! I'm ready to go home!' I missed it. My group went to Hawaii and were the first group to go to Vietnam. I said 'that could have been me'."
SID MORRIS, 80, is also a retired Army staff sergeant. His arrival in Korea was also towards the end of the three-year war, in December 1952. Morris is also the grandfather of EOD Taylor Morris, also of Cedar Falls. Last year, EOD Morris lost part of all four limbs after a bomb blast in Afghanistan and his story of recovery and rehabilitation has touched people throughout the nation.
On His Arrival in Korea:
"We came into Inchon and they loaded us on trucks and drove us up through Seoul. I ended up in the 7th Infantry Division and our battle area was called Old Baldy and Porkchop and Hill 200. Those are two of the battle areas that had been recorded in history. In fact, Porkchop had a movie made about it."
The Infamous War Weather:
"Very similar to here in Cedar Falls. If you could imagine sleeping in a trench in a foxhole in Iowa, that would give you a good example of how it was. We had ponchos and we had some warm clothes. Sometimes, not enough.
"One of my duties I was assigned was I came in as a cannoneer and what they call a 'chief computer'. I plotted missions. My training at Camp Chaffee (Arkansas) was to plan our missions – artillery, mortars, things like that. When I got there, they assigned me to an artillery company, 155 mm Howitzers. This was to provide support fire for the 17th Infantry Regiment and 32nd Infantry Regiment."
July 27, 1953 Through His Eyes:
"We did have some fire afterwards because the communication with the Chinese, the enemy, was not as good as ours. We were told – I was on an outpost on Porkchop Hill. We had to be on guard for about 4 days. There were some rounds that came in but it was not a serious thing but we had to be alert and, finally, the word got out and it stopped."
His Return Home:
"I came back to United States at end of 1953 and to Camp Carson in Colorado and then got home, I think, probably March 1954. I think that's right."
A Strategic Regret:
"We were pretty much holding ground. The beginning of limited warfare was started with the firing of (Gen. Douglas) MacArthur. Prior to that. When we went to war, we went to win. When President (Harry) Truman fired MacArthur, that was the beginning of limited warfare. That was when they set up the resistance at the 38th Parallel and that was the reason – that decision – it was a political decision. It's all kinds of stuff and I was not very old. As I look back, it was troublesome to me to not – I'm a fighter – and I go to win. There is no other way. It was troublesome to a lot of us that we were restrained
On A Friend From Long Ago:
"I think one of the things I remember most is I made a South Korean friend. His name was Kim Koo Kap. I'll never forget him. He was a Second Lieutenant. He helped us on the front line and he helped us communicate with the enemy. When they infiltrated and captured, we needed somebody to help. We became very good friends and I miss him...even today."
On Why Was His Life Spared When So Many Died?
"You thought about it and wondered when you lost a friend. Why wasn't it me? My faith is pretty strong and I looked at it as I must have had purpose in God's eyes.... But I can't say I had the experiences that Ken (Lind) had, for example, because it was a different kind of war. There were a lot of different ways of fighting in that war. We were all out for a while and we were restrained for a while. That makes a big difference in fighting.