I have read and heard so much in the movies, and magazines and papers and on TV, about world War II, and Viet Nam, and how our soldiers were treated when they returned from those wars, compared to how our present day soldiers are treated upon homecoming, that I decided to write how a soldier (myself) from the “Forgotten War” came home.
It was in May, 1952, when a ship bringing a load of soldiers home from war in Korea, a war that saw more than 54,000 U.S. and Allied troops killed in three years, landed in San Francisco. There were no bands, or police escorts, or parades, nor were there any protesters, and I don’t even remember a Red Cross Truck with coffee and donuts. Just transportation to the train station for the cross country ride for two days to our separation point at Indiantown Gap, in Pennsylvania. We were to be here a couple of days for physicals and debriefing, prior to Discharge, so two of the guys from the 329th, and myself decided we would have one last fling. One of the fellows was from this area, I seem to remember his name was Whalen, and he was from Shamoken, Pa. Anyway he knew his way around this area, so that last night at the Gap, we caught a bus for Harrisburg to celebrate our survival of the war. First we had an all you can eat shrimp dinner at one of the clubs, and then we proceeded to take in the floor shows at a few other clubs. Although with all the food, and moving around, none of us got drunk, we did manage to miss the last bus back to camp. So we got out on the highway and hitchhiked. Fortunately a bunch of soldiers going back to camp stopped for us, and even though it was crowded with nine of us in the car, we were grateful for the lift. The next day we received our Discharge papers. The date was May 23, 1952.
From the Gap, I took a bus to Harrisburg, and a train from there to Pittsburgh. Since I had not notified anyone of the exact time I would arrive, and being flush with back pay, I took a cab the fifteen or so miles from the train station in Pittsburgh, to my home in West Mifflin.
When the cab dropped me off, and I walked up the familiar driveway to the house, I didn’t get the kind of reception I was expecting. The House was empty.
There was a note in the Kitchen explaining that my Grandmother had died, and they had gone to West Virginia to attend the funeral. Fortunately, the family car was in such bad shape, they were afraid to take it, and it was still there with the keys in it. Being used to old cars in bad shape, I didn’t think twice about starting it up and heading for West Virginia, hoping I would get there in time for the funeral. We had visited relatives many times when I was growing up, and I just hoped I could remember how to get there. This was a time before Interstate highways, and back then some of the roads were still dirt roads. My memory served me well, and I finally arrived at my Aunts house in Brown, W.V., near Fairmont, where the funeral was to be held, and as luck would have it I did get there in time.
The funeral was something else. My Grandmother had been living with a daughter in Parkersburg, but was brought back here to be buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery, along with other ancestors that were buried there. First there was a service in an old wooden church that sat on a hillside above the main road. It was a steep hillside, so there was wooden steps winding several flights up to where the church stood. Having been picked as a Pall Bearer, along with five others, the problem was that the steps were not wide enough to accommodate all the Pall Bearers and the Casket. So three of us had to fight through the weeds carrying the Casket, while the other three were able to use the steps. I don’t mind telling you that it was a relief when we finally got the Casket up to the church and back down again with out mishap.
The cemetery itself was another story. It had been raining and the road up the mountain to the grave site was all mud. The hearse couldn’t get up there, so the casket had to be loaded on a sled, pulled by two mules, while the mourners had to walk behind through the mud, the mile or so up to the cemetery. But we finally got there, had the final ceremony, lowered the casket into the grave, and returned to my Aunt’s house a few miles away
It was decided then that we would return to Parkersburg with my Aunt that my Grandmother had lived with, and then return home. My Dad and Mother had made the trip with my Sister and brother in Law, so my brother Don and I followed them in the old Chevy. It rained the whole time, and the trip to Parkersburg, and then back home to West Mifflin was a miserable one.
When we finally arrived home, I shed my uniform and , and without any further fanfare, my Civilian life began !
KOREAN WAR MEMORIAL
Having seen pictures of some of the Korean war memorials located all over the country, I began to realize that the “forgotten war” may not have been as forgotten as I may have thought. A link to pictures of some of the best of them can be found on the website Asakorea.org .
After researching on the Internet, I found that Pittsburgh has a very nice Korean War Memorial, located on the North Shore of the City. This memorial is positioned and shaped to capture sunlight. As the sun travels the horizon, columns of light articulate, sequentially, aspects of the human spirit, experience and feeling. Through solid and void, light and shadow, the sun traces a spectrum of individual and shared experience.
Dedicated July 27, 1999, and rededicated July 27, 2001, the 46th and 48th anniversary of the signing of the truce that ended the war it is hoped this memorial will become a welcome place that can evoke memory, emotion and vision through the eyes of each visitor. It is meant to be very personal.