J une 25 marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, referred to often in the U.S. as the Forgotten War for the lack of attention it received compared to more well-known conflicts like World War II and later the Vietnam War.
While media coverage was often considered lacking at the time and U.S. citizens may not have paid much attention to the conflict that ultimately cost 5 million military member and civilian lives according to the History Channel’s website, the memories of the three-year Korean conflict that pitted communist against capitalist forces and set the stage for decades of tension among North Korea, South Korea and the United States are still emblazoned in the minds of the conflict’s survivors.
I had the pleasure last week of talking with one of those survivors, Ralph “Wes” Penrod of Kearney. Although now an octogenarian who has lived a lot of life in the seven decades since the war, mere mention of the conflict brings back a vivid flood of memories to the private first class who spent 13 months as a teenager in an ammunition outfit in the Army traveling across the most war-torn portions of Korea.
The Korean War began June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops pushed into South Korea across the 38th Parallel, the boundary between the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the north and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the south.
Penrod, who is lucky to be alive and whose story on his time in the war is shared elsewhere in this edition, is a living reminder of the importance of sharing and telling these veterans’ stories before we lose them to history. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of surviving Korean War era veterans is rapidly declining. According to VA figures, in September of 2015, there were little more than 40,000 Korean War era veterans alive. Estimates of those still alive by this September are expected to be little more than half that, at 23,283.
Understanding how the conflict began and the dedication of those who served and lost their lives helps us understand how our country’s relationships with that part of the world were formed and exist today. Veterans of this war deserve to be remembered, not just on June 25 or Veterans Day, but every day.