War seems so long ago for a man who spent the last of his teenage years firing mortars from trenches in Korea.
But Saturday, distant memory was brought to the forefront again for the former infantryman Leon Rump.
His wife and daughter by his side, the 80-year-old from Hutchinson, Kan., was among several dozen who attended the annual Veterans Day ceremony at the 45th Infantry Museum in Oklahoma City.
“You get a little bit concerned, you know, but you're already there,” he said, reflecting on nine months of combat along the 38th parallel in early 1952. “I'm not sorry I did it — I'm glad. I served my country and probably grew up a lot, too.”
The son of Kansas farmers, Rump was 18 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was dispatched to the Korean War with the 45th Infantry Division after serving basic training at Fort Riley.
There, he fired and dodged mortars as a reinforcement for United Nations troops working to keep Chinese and North Korean troops out of South Korea.
“We were on one side of the hill and the enemy was on the other — we had outposts that would tell us where to fire,” he said. “When you're a kid, you don't think so much; but after a little enemy shells come in, it wakes you up.”
While at war, his father encouraged a young woman, Frances, who worked at the local Phillips 66, to write him letters of support. Leon and Frances Rump have been married now for 57 years and raised four children together, including Kristi, who joined them Saturday.
“It wasn't something he has ever bragged about, and until adulthood I didn't realize how important his service was,” Kristi Rump said. “It puts a whole new spin on the choices people make, and it makes me very proud of him.”
Leon Rump retired from farming wheat 22 years ago, and he is currently undergoing treatment for cancer. At the encouragement of friends and family, the three headed to Oklahoma City on Friday to check out the museum.
Saturday's ceremony on the museum lawn was an unscheduled surprise for them.
‘A greater cause'
“Our democracy depends on the willingness of its finest men and women to step forward and to serve,” Col. Van Kinchen, commander of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team said in his address. “A commitment to dedicate oneself to a greater cause, the cause of protecting our democracy — that's what our military does for the nation.”
Kinchen's speech was flanked on both sides by gun salutes, prayer and patriotic music by the 145th Army Band. Flag corps from a dozen outfits set up in a semicircle, and yellow, orange and green leaves fluttered a cadence in the steady autumn wind.
The ceremony ended with the laying of a memorial wreath at the base of the museum's flagpole.
Kinchen, who entered the Oklahoma Army National Guard in 1983 and most recently helped lead support teams in Afghanistan and Kuwait, acknowledged the nation's service members and veterans. He also told of the bravery of his fellow Guard members.
“I grew up in the Army National Guard and for the first 18 years thought my service would be limited to simply weekend drills and a two-week summer camp,” he said. “Our world changed on Sept. 11, 2001, and I have now witnessed not only one or two of our units called to service, but have seen every formation in the Oklahoma National Guard called into service, most multiple times.”
Fourteen of those Oklahoma Guardsmen died during a recent deployment, including 11 killed in action, he said. The team suffered 289 battle-related injuries, and nearly as many non-battle injuries. More than 200 remain in medical treatment programs around the country, Kinchen said.
The diligence and courage of these troops, and of servicemen past and future, is an important one that should be celebrated and honored — but most of all supported, he said.
“The scars of war, some visible, some not, are etched upon our hearts,” Kinchen said. “We must not forget that all of our veterans need the support of their communities. A few minutes of your time can make a huge difference in the life of a veteran.”