Sixty years after the Korean War fighting, dozens of local veterans gathered Friday in Oklahoma City to share their stories and celebrate the end of the conflict often called the “forgotten war.”
The armistice that effectively ended the war was signed July 27, 1953. Friday's gathering at the Golden Corral, 520 S MacArthur Blvd., also marked an important anniversary for many of the Marines in attendance. President Harry S. Truman activated Marine Corps reservists in July 1950.
Ray Sherry, 86, and Hershall Burns, 80, both of Oklahoma City, were among those called up. Four months later, they took part in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, one of the most infamous engagements of the war.
A group of about 30,000 U.S., South Korean and British troops was surrounded by 67,000 Chinese.
Temperatures in the mountains around the reservoir plunged to minus 35 degrees.
“Your rations froze,” Burns said.
“You couldn't dig because the ground was frozen. We all had frostbite. The weather was as much of an adversary as the enemy.”
Medical supplies froze and equipment malfunctioned because of the extreme temperatures. Exposing injuries to treat them put the wounded at risk of frostbite.
After a 17-day battle, the U.N. forces broke out and escaped into South Korea, inflicting heavy casualties on the Chinese.
Those who survived the battle are called the Chosin Few.
“They call us that because few went up there, and very few came back,” Sherry said.
“It was 30 or 40 below zero. That's what I remember the most.”
‘Our last opportunity'
Oklahoma's 45th Infantry Division also served in the Korean War.
The Oklahoma National Guard division was called up in 1951 and served along the front lines — which had devolved to trench warfare — from December of 1951 until the end of the fighting.
Burns said it's important for veterans to get together and remember anniversaries because, like World War II veterans, many Korean vets are aging.
“This is about our last opportunity,” Burns said.
Even those who were teenagers when they served are closing in on their 80s. He said it's up to him and his fellow veterans to tell their stories while they still can.
“They call it the ‘forgotten war' because it was between the two big ones with World War II and Vietnam,” Burns said.
“There was no TV like there was in Vietnam, and you didn't have the number of troops you had in World War II. We're all that's left.”