Community reflects on Korean service, monument dedicated to 'Forgotten War'
June 28, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- Detroit-native and Army volunteer Ralph Reynolds was an 18 year-old combat medic when he arrived in Wonsan Harbor, North Korea, in September 1950. As part of the 96th Field Artillery Battalion, Reynolds' unit gave artillery support to units including the 1st Marine Division.
During a Chinese offensive in 1951, the 96th FA and other forces were credited with killing more than 3,500 Chinese soldiers, he said.
"We stopped them in their tracks and started the push back," said Reynolds, now 80.
After that they were see-saw type battles, he said.
"Up and down, up and down across the 38th Parallel," Reynolds said. "We lost quite a few men."
José Mercado was a 20 year old draftee from Angeles, Puerto Rico, when he arrived in Korea, as a replacement for the 45th Infantry Division Oklahoma National Guard.
"I was wishing for snow because I had never seen it," said Mercado, now 80, and a retired first sergeant. "We got snow and it wouldn't go away. It got old and cold very quick."
Lawtonians Mercado and Reynolds were two of the hundreds of veterans, service members, family, friends and community leaders who attended the Korean Veterans Memorial dedication June 25 at Elmer Thomas Park. The date coincided with the 62nd anniversary of North Korea crossing the 38th parallel into South Korea.
"This memorial is long overdue," Reynolds said. "When you watch the History Channel and they speak of wars they go from World War I, World War II and then they jump to Vietnam. They always seem to forget Korea."
The Korean memorial sits across the street from the Vietnam War memorial making the east side of the park hallowed grounds and that's no accident, said Bud Arenz, Lawton Korean War Veterans Association Chapter 319 commander.
Talking with Lawton Parks and Recreation authorities, Arenz said they decided to make the area the path of memorials.
Money for the monument was raised by KWVA 319 through donations from the local community, including many Korean churches here, as well as from Korea, said Arenz, who designed the monument.
"We got a tremendous response from Koreans. Two-thirds of the money for the monument came from the citizens of Korea," he said. "In Korea, June 25 is like our Fourth of July."
Arenz reminded readers that when the armistice was signed with North Korea July 27, 1953, there was no peace treaty.
"The war is still on," he said. "Our boys still go over there in the defense of [South] Korea."
The crowd was packed with Korean-Americans who heard the Korean national anthem performed by Whangwoo Kim, as well as the "Star-Spangled Banner" performed by Chongson Jung.
In his invocation, Rev. Bon Woong Koo, retired Korean Navy captain, said, "May this memorial be an enduring witness before all people to remember and honor the sons and daughters who served the call to defend Korea."
Speaker Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, thanked the donors, creators and community of the monument who worked tirelessly to turn a vision into a magnificent memorial for Southwest Oklahoma all in less than one year from planning to dedication.
Pointing out the fluttering flags, McDonald noted the U.S, Republic of Korea and State of Oklahoma flags.
But there was one flag McDonald focused on, the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action flag.
This one stands out because of today's emotional setting, and because of the words emblazoned on it: You Are Not Forgotten, McDonald said.
"These four words express a committment to every person who has ever gone into harm's way for our country, and to those who will heed the call," the general said. "More than that they are a covenant with the American people who send off their sons and daughters to fight for our country."
McDonald told the story of Cpl. Robert Wax, A Battery, 555th Field Artillery, who was listed as MIA after a battle Aug. 11, 1950 in Korea. His remains were finally identified late last year.
Five days ago Wax was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, McDonald said.
"He was not forgotten," McDonald said, "and neither are the countless Americans and Koreans who fought so bravely 62 years ago."
"Our country is forever grateful to the Korean War veterans. Your sacrifices guaranteed freedom for South Korea, and a close, enduring partnership with the Republic of Korea," McDonald said.
Retired Soldier Herbert Kinsey of Lawton served in Korea in 1972. He said the monument is an acknowledgement to all service members who served in Korea.
"A lot of people don't know what a Soldier goes through," said Kinsey, also a Vietnam War combat veteran. "This monument is our way of saying, 'Yeah, we did serve.'"