"Keep our story going,” implored Commander Dave Evans in his remarks closing the monthly meeting of the Korean War Veterans Association, General Brad Smith Chapter. At the meeting, one of us—Cita—had given a talk, as she often volunteers to do to veterans’ groups, about Winston Churchill, based on her book, Dinner with Churchill: Policy Making at the Dinner Table. So it was that we found ourselves in a bar and meeting hall in a sparsely developed section of Scottsdale, Arizona.
The area set aside for the gathering included a table for nonmembers of the chapter—mostly wives and daughters who help the veterans (average age 86½, a few in wheelchairs) get to the meeting. Another table was occupied by eight Korean women, regulars who attend to show their appreciation to the vets who saved them from enslavement by the Communists. The Korean government also shows its gratitude. One vet told us that when he and his wife expressed an interest in revisiting battle sites, the Korean government provided round-trip transportation, a week’s stay at a five-star hotel, and—when they learned he had played the accordion to entertain his mates during the war but was too weak to carry an instrument with him—an accordion on which he could play while in the country.
To see these veterans struggle to attention, then face and salute the flag and pledge allegiance to our country, “under God,” was moving enough. Then came the invocation from the chaplain, a woman in her late-seventies. She asked God to protect “those in peril,” and she asked all present to pray for Arizonan Kayla Mueller, held by Islamist fanatics, whose murder was not yet publicly known.
The vets clustered at tables in small groups, seated on folding chairs and surrounded by memorabilia. Budweiser had donated a large banner with a map of Korea on one side showing where every battle had occurred, with the words “Welcome Home Heroes.” The other side showed a bottle of Bud with which to raise the toast “Here’s to the Heroes.”
The audience took a lively interest in Cita’s talk. They wanted to know whether Eleanor Roosevelt had succeeded in persuading FDR to end the late-night sessions he and Churchill enjoyed during the prime minister’s three-week stay at the White House after Pearl Harbor. Answer: “No.” And whether Churchill drank as much as legend has it. The answer: “A lot by current standards, but never so much as to impair his ability to run the war.”
One vet, with a German accent, asked to speak. He had been in the U.S. sector of Berlin when the Allies occupied the city. He remembered the airlift of 1948 and ’49, when the Soviets blocked Allied access to Berlin by road and rail, and Allied planes landed in the American sector every three minutes, bringing fuel and food and then immediately taking off. He eventually got to the States, he said, and when the Korean War broke out enlisted in the Army to fight for “the best country in the world.”
On to new business, starting with two announcements. The first was a happy one: As soon as all of the World War II veterans in the Phoenix area have been accommodated on “Honor Flights” that take veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorial to their service, Korean War veterans in the area will be similarly honored. The second was disappointing: These heroes are trying to get a resolution passed by both houses of Congress that would allow them to add a Wall of Remembrance, with the names of the fallen, to the Korean War monument, the cost
to be borne mostly by the Korean government, according to Evans, the balance by private contributions. So far, no luck.
Then came informal socializing. One vet regretted the recent death of a member who had fought his way from Busan to the Yalu without getting a scratch. Another had some unkind words for the military leaders’ conduct of the battle around the Chosin Reservoir, where our 1st Marine and 7th Infantry divisions took heavy losses while battling the Chinese forces that had poured across the border.
The closing ceremony: the doffing of the distinctive caps these veterans wear, a roll call of the members who have recently passed away, the mournful ringing of a bell after each name.
We had been in the presence of America as it once was, with unassuming heroes who value God and country, and who showed us the courtesies that once characterized social relations all over America. We take heart from the fact that these veterans routinely have their children and grandchildren join them in parades and other displays of patriotism and love of country—so as to “keep our story going.”