Korean War | 60 years later

Korea was war in all but name

2013-08-17T20:00:00Z 2013-11-08T19:08:05Z Korea was war in all but nameDan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
August 17, 2013 8:00 pm  • 

The Korean War was unlike any the United States had fought before, in part because it technically wasn't a war.

Congress did not declare war on North Korea or its partners, China and the Soviet Union, after the communist nation invaded the U.S. ally South Korea on June 25, 1950.

Instead, the 5-year-old United Nations, formed to preserve world peace following World War II, took the lead in condemning North Korea's aggression. The United States, on behalf of the U.N. and acting under its flag, agreed to lead a coalition to defend South Korea and restore peace on the Korean peninsula.

The subsequent push back of North Korean forces to the Chinese border and the eventual three-year stalemate near the 38th parallel was described at the time as a "police action" or "conflict," instead of a war.

As a result, people living in Northwest Indiana and throughout the country did not exhibit the same passion and all-out effort for Korea that followed in the wake of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entry into World War II, said state Sen. Frank Mrvan, of Hammond. Congress declared war on Japan barely 24 hours after the surprise assault in Hawaii.

"There's no comparison whatsoever," Mrvan said. "After Dec. 7, hundreds of thousands of men rushed to volunteer, and that didn't happen in Korea."

But Mrvan signed up, enlisting in the Air Force in 1952 hoping to be a pilot. The Air Force had other plans for him, and Mrvan spent the Korean War in Rantoul, Ill., teaching airmen how to forecast the weather.

"This was the command that God wanted me to do, so I did it," Mrvan said. "Though you were affected, knowing that these kids were going out somewhere ... ."

Many of them never came back: 54,246 Americans were killed or missing in the Korean War, and 92,134 were wounded.

"Korea was a terrible war. It was a bad place: they froze to death, everybody was against them," Mrvan said. "When you're in a foreign country you don't know where your friends are. The Korean War was probably one of the worst wars we've had."

While the 1953 cease-fire brought a wary peace to the peninsula — North Korean and South Korean soldiers still glare at each other across a "demilitarized" border — the two countries are technically still at war and U.S. troops continue to serve alongside their South Korean counterparts.

Carmen Foresta, 87, of Dolton, fought in the Korean War and World War II. Foresta has harrowing tales of serving on the front line in Korea. He told of pushing back the invading army to the 38th parallel, "and that's where the line is today."

It remains a standstill, 60 years after the war was supposed to have ended.

"I want the American troops to stay there," Foresta said.

He fears the North Koreans would invade again if American troops supporting their South Korean counterparts pulled out.

The political leaders in Washington and North Korea and South Korea are "not doing enough" to correct the situation and explain the facts of life to each other, Foresta said.

The continuing American presence is what brought Donald Shults, of Highland, to South Korea for 13 months in 1964-65. The Army light infantryman was stationed near the demilitarized zone and participated in regular war games "to make our presence known," he said.

"Not all veterans are wartime, not all veterans are combat, and I'll tell you the U.S. military is the most dangerous job in the world," Shults said, recalling a fellow soldier killed during a live-fire exercise when the soldier jumped up from a belly crawl to get away from a snake.

Shults said a war and a conflict are both "pretty bloody" when you get down to it, but U.S. soldiers had to overcome additional challenges operating in places such as Korea, and later Vietnam, Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas America has fought without declaring war.

"A conflict is fought with limited resources — you don't have full-speed-ahead permission," Shults said. "You do what you're told, and you go where you're told to go. You don't want to cause an international incident."

The retired veterans service officer and co-host of the Veterans Views radio program on Hammond's WJOB-AM said he agrees with those who consider Korea "the forgotten war."

Though no matter what you call it, "War is ugly," Shults said. "As a veteran, I don't want to have to see anyone have to go through that."

Doug Ross contributed to this story.

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