Region veterans of the Korean War
"Mortar fire and shrapnel were coming down almost like rain."
Korean War veteran Bruce Ross talks about his time in Korea.
Korean War veteran William Parks discusses his time in the U.S. Army.
Korean War veteran Carmen Foresta talks about his time in Korea.
Korean War veteran Charles "Mike" Mikovetz talks about his time in Korea.
Korean War veteran Joe Pupillo talks about his service time in Korea.
Korean War veteran Manoly Traycoff talks about his time in Korea.
Korean War veteran Eugene Hanyzewski talks about his time in Korea.
Korean War veteran Ted Erceg talks about his time in Korea.
Childhood friends Ted Erceg and Joe Pupillo grew up a block apart in the Kirk Yard neighborh…
For the past three months, The Times has been interviewing Korean War veterans as part of an…
Korean War veteran Charles "Mike" Mikovetz talks about some of the injuries he sustained ser…
Robert E. Montgomery II was in Korea to rebuild and preserve, not to search and destroy, in the waning days of the Korean War.
That was probably for the best, his wife, Marguerite, wryly observed, given his reactions to what little shooting he saw.
The Army Corps of Engineers specialist second class was aboard a train chugging to Pusan in late July 1953 when it was attacked by "what were probably the last remaining guerrillas" still marauding in that area, Montgomery said. He and his fellow new arrivals promptly stuck their heads out the train windows to see what was happening, Marguerite said. Not something anyone facing enemy fire should do, she noted.
The troop train's attackers were quickly dispatched by other forces in the vicinity.
Upon arrival in Pusan, Bob Montgomery and other members of the 2nd Engineering Group were walking along the city's streets when sirens went off, traffic scattered and everyone went running for cover, except for one GI.
"I had no idea what was going on," said the Highland resident. "It was an air attack. And here I was just standing there. That was the end of my excitement."
The three-year war concluded days later with an armistice on July 27, splitting the nation into communist North Korea and democratic South.
The son of an appliance repairman, Montgomery was born in Washington, Ind., spent his freshman year at Bosse High in Evansville, but graduated from Springfield High in Illinois. He had a year of college at what is now the University of Evansville, studying engineering before enlisting.
Montgomery, who had hoped to join the Navy's Seabees, but there were no openings, spent much of his 18 months in war-torn Korea helping map out plans for rebuilding roads and bridges as well as warehouses and temporary structures for storage from his draftsman's table.
The peacetime duty never put him in any danger (other than from ROK troops guarding the base's perimeter who were known to shoot first and ask questions like "who goes there?" later, he said).
Consquently, the young soldier so far from home became an accidental tourist. A novice photographer, Montgomery has the customary shots of Army buddies and exterior shots on-base and off.
But it is the collection of photos of the countryside, of such clarity it looks as though it was shot yesterday rather than 60 years ago, that attests to his abilities as a photo historian. What he captured through his lenses is a rich visual record of a less-mechanized, near-feudal society that still existed in postwar Korea before the South's emergence as an industrial leader.
Most Korean cities were surrounded by ancient walls that were severely damaged in the war, Montgomery said. His photos of those historical structures reveal the beauty of ornately constructed pagoda-style gates with small inlaid hand-painted tiles. Some of the structures fortunately had withstood the ravages of war as well as time.
He chronicled the life of farmers in their rice paddies. Several are seen shoeing an ox. Another pedals a large grist mill-style wheel, lifting salt water into a canal where it can dry, leaving salt crystals to be gathered.
Montgomery's shot from atop the 1,000 steps on the outskirts of Seoul looks down on one of the few large white Christian crosses he saw in Asia. The contrast between the modern city of Seoul with its stylish stadium and university and the mud huts where people lived on its fringes was striking, Montgomery said.
He saw mothers trudging through sewage in the streets, toting children on their backs.
It was an adventure that was more perilous in arriving (in addition to the train attack, his storm-tossed ship was listing 36 degrees at one point — 38 degrees being a capsizing point, he was told), than in the actual stay.
"It (the experience) provided me with an opportunity to grow up," said Montgomery, who used a bachelor of science in business administration degree in a variety of subsequent jobs.
As for photography? Times were tough financially at one point, and all his camera equipment was sold.
The only time Fred Schultz so much as felt menaced in his 15-month stint as an Air Force radio operator in the Korean War was during a torch-lit May Day demonstration outside his fence-protected base in 1953.
“It was like the scene in the old movie 'Gunga Din,' where they marched around the temple,” the East Chicago Harbor native said of what presumably was a communist sympathizer rally at the Hong Song airfield some 40 miles south of Seoul.
Schultz's Korean consisted of a few phrases, so whatever message the imposing spectacle was meant to convey to President Syngman Rhee and his U.S. allies was lost on him.
The demonstrators didn't typify the people Schultz met in the waning months of a war that split the nation into communist North and democratic South, at the 38th Parallel.
He and his fellow radio operators, who transmitted mostly condensed weather reports, lived in Quonset huts that had no running water, little electricity other than what a generator could provide and only pot belly stoves for heat. Schultz's only opportunity to take a shower came during a week's R&R in Japan.
Their predecessors had engaged locals to help tidy up, and those young people who were helping support their families during a time of war-ravaged deprivation were his acquaintances, he said.
The servicemen paid a “houseboy” $2 a month to sweep, cook and hook them up with a mama-san to launder their clothes. Young girls in pigtails worked in the mess hall, said Schultz, of Munster.
Over time, the Koreans came to see the latest batch of Americans were people who could be trusted. That wasn't always the case with everyone who cycled through the base.
“There evidently were a lot of good GIs they came into contact with,” Schultz said of the industrious, good-natured Koreans.
If they didn't share an identical notion of democracy, the Koreans “definitely liked what we had and hoped they could get some of that,” Schultz said.
He developed a relationship with the houseboy (Jo-dung-soo phonetically), who after the war ended never requested food or money from Schultz, but instead implored his American friend to send him books.
However, cultural rifts were never more evident than on a Thanksgiving Day when base personnel were treated to a meal of pork chops in the mess hall. The master sergeant in charge happened to spy one of Korean cooks slip some pork chops into her garments.
He notified the Republic of Korea police as he had been instructed. After they arrived, they hustled the cook behind the mess hall, tied her hands behind her back, made her kneel and executed her with a single shot.
“He (the master sergeant) would have given her the pork chops if she'd asked,” said Schultz, who shared his compatriot's remorse over the killing.
That South Korean slaying by ROK allies was the only casualty of the war Schultz saw. The only fighting he saw was between fellow servicemen at a dance hall.
By August, the war had ended, and the town was no longer off limits. Schultz, the son of a German immigrant mill worker and mother of Polish descent, discovered he had soul mates who loved American jazz and could jitterbug with him. They would play records and talk as best they could given the language barrier.
Looking back, Schultz said that while the U.S. can no longer be policeman to the world, Korea was a different situation.
“We did them a big favor (saving them from communism),” he said, noting South Korea's thriving capitalist economy now.
If he needed any reminder of how much of an industrial powerhouse South Korea has become, he got one right before he retired 20 years ago from what had once been Youngstown Steel.
“Samsung Steel bought the finishing floor part (of the plant),” he said. “So after we sold that to South Korea, I tried to buy that stock, but they wouldn't sell Samsung over the counter to us.”
Ed Zurawski's mailman, a family friend, was reluctant to give him the envelope in 1952.
"He just stared and looked at me and he says, 'I had to do this. You know, I passed out so many of these ... .' And I said, 'That's OK. What have you got?' He says, 'You've got a letter from the U.S. Selective Service.' I said, 'That's fine; I've been kind of expecting it,'" Zurawski, 82, of Schererville, recalled last week.
Thus began Zurawski's entry into the Korean War.
The U.S. Army veteran learned a lot about "the right way, the wrong way and the Army way." He learned about others as well.
While in basic training, he said, he was participating in a ceremony to honor a soldier who received a Purple Heart. When the troops went to parade rest, gun in front and one hand behind the back, Zurawski heard the man next to him remark, "That was a real pretty tune."
"He didn't know they were playing the national anthem," Zurawski said.
The ship trip to Japan, en route to Korea, was turbulent. "We went, so to speak, like 500 miles out of our way to avoid a hurricane. And that ship was tossed like a toothpick in a glass of water that was being shaken by somebody." Zurawski was seasick.
Most of the trip, he was unable to get to the mess hall because the smell of cooking grease turned his stomach. One time, though, he went for breakfast. The ship was tossing and turning so much that the men's trays were sliding from one end of the table to another. By the time his tray returned to him, "The guy down there was sick, and he urped on my plate." Zurawski rushed up to the deck for fresh air.
When Zurawski arrived in Yokohama, Japan, he went from seasick to homesick.
"At first I took a deep breath, and I thought I was back home," Zurawski said. He was still aboard ship, "but to where we could see the land, see a couple of smokestacks and that, and I thought it was the South Chicago Works, you know. They had a couple of steel mills there."
When he landed in Pusan weeks later, after learning how to become a supply sergeant, he was again struck by how much it looked like home.
"When I got off the boat" at sunrise, "tears welled up in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks ’cause that's all it looked like was the Indiana Dunes. There was just one big squat tent, which was headquarters. The rest was just sand dunes. And I thought, 'Lord, what are we doing here? What are we fighting for?'"
That night, he fell asleep in the bunker. When a Korean soldier woke him up, "I thought I was taken prisoner." Then he learned 10 percent of the troops with the Americans were South Korean.
That proved an issue on the front lines, he said, because there were some times when the Korean allies wouldn't shoot. It was a civil war, he said, and the Koreans would occasionally say, "I don't want to kill my father or my uncle or my family."
Another time, his unit, the 45th Infantry Division, scaled Christmas Hill in the dark. The path was 3 feet wide, at most, in points. The men were instructed to keep their left hand on the rock wall at all times. That's what kept them from falling off the side of the mountain. In the daylight, the men were surprised to look down and see what they had scaled.
Another time, his unit was under heavy attack, and he was frantically trying to pry open crates of grenades for a fellow soldier, he said.
"He was throwing hand grenades like Dizzy Dean was throwing baseballs," Zurawski said.
There were times when Ed Wroblewski had to feel there was someone watching over him as he served aboard the USS Floyd B. Parks in the Korean War.
Wroblewski’s view of combat came from ringside seats at a 5-inch gun mount on the destroyer's O1 deck.
In time, the Gary native became the gunnery crew’s eyes and ears. He listened in on the radio to U.S. pilots encountering MiGs north of the 38th Parallel as the destroyer steamed toward Wonsan Harbor.
He took coordinates from Marine spotters on where enemy fire was coming from, charted the position of U.S. planes (with an X) and “bogeys” (with an O) on a Plexiglas screen for a superior who could relay the information to the gun crew.
He was positioning the gun’s vertical movement on one of the first days the ship started taking rounds from communist batteries as it neared the harbor.
“I’m Catholic, and I had a rosary in my hand. And I kept following instructions ... and it broke. All the beads fell to the deck, which had holes in it. I told myself, ‘Hey, Ed, relax. Now the whole ship is blessed.’”
If he had any doubts about that, they were dispelled as the Parks drew closer to shore.
The channel narrowed, and on both sides of the ship enemy gun emplacements in the foothills began a barrage, sending watery geysers up from explosions in front, behind and to each side of the ship.
“It was extraordinary that … God … he was there and he saved us. For some reason we didn’t get hit," the Hobart resident recalled.
Wroblewski’s combat experiences came in late June 1951 as his one-year wedding anniversary was nearing.
Wroblewski, “angry, crying, mad at the world," went below decks to ask a duty officer if he could “give the North Koreans a gift from me and my bride.”
The officer replied, “Sure, grab those handles on the instrument panel, and when the light goes on, pull the trigger.” Wroblewski did as instructed, launching a fusillade into demolished Wonsan City. Then he turned to the officer, saluted, said, “Thank you, sir,” and left, feeling somewhat better on his anniversary.
Later, in another engagement, Wroblewski was told to find out why gun mount 41 wasn't firing. He was on his way back to report that water jackets weren't cooling the guns off properly when an officer pushed him around the corner of a bulkhead. At that moment, a shrapnel bomb exploded above them raining down metal shards.
Both men escaped unscathed.
“I should have picked some of that (the metal) up as a souvenir,” Wroblewski said. “They might have made a nice pair of cufflinks.”
The surface and airborne hazards were just part of the threat to the destroyer.
Late one dark night, when you couldn't tell the sea from the horizon, the crew took note of an approaching blip on a radar screen. When it advanced close enough for sailors to cast a spotlight on it, North Koreans in a sampan were dropping a mine over its side. A Parks gun battery erased that threat in an already heavily mined harbor.
Wroblewski finished his tour before the armistice was negotiated in 1953. He finally was reunited with his wife, Alma, to return to a job in the steel mills. The GI Bill gave him the opportunity to pursue commercial art, which spawned years of commuting into Chicago, working for such studios as Handelen-Pedersen as well as his own freelance shop. He retired in the early 1990s.
Serving in the war, Wroblewski says, helped him “appreciate what has transpired in the forming of this country.” He is glad to be part of a group of guys who helped preserve freedom for South Koreans.
When Ray Dorulla was sailing to Korea, the seas were rough because of a hurricane.
"The guys on the top bunk were puking on the guys on the bottom bunk," Dorulla said. He was in the middle bunk.
"Most of the guys didn't even go to the mess hall, they were so sick."
Dorulla, 83, of Valparaiso, said he was one of the few who didn't get seasick, so he had to haul out the garbage aboard ship.
It wasn't what he signed up for, but that's a familiar story for soldiers in the Korean War.
Dorulla, who advanced to the rank of corporal in the U.S. Army, expected to handle prisoners of war but was sent to the front lines instead, to relieve the 1st Cavalry Division.
"They were beat up pretty bad, and they were awaiting a lot of replacements," Dorulla said.
He fought where some of the war's heaviest fighting occurred, places with names like Old Baldy, Pork Chop, Alligator Jaws and Arsenal.
Having learned Morse code at radio school — or "ditty ditty dum dum" school, as Dorulla called it — he was working in tandem with soldiers carrying other communications gear. In those days, remember, telephones on the front lines required wires.
"I lost the wire guy and the radio guy," Dorulla said, and then Col. Taylor asked him to be his radio man.
"He was a really, really, really, good colonel," Dorulla said. Dreams of a cushy life away from the front lines were quickly dashed. Dorulla and the colonel spent every night in a bunker on the front line.
The cold nights in Korea were brutal.
Dorulla's unit was issued new winter gear intended to protect the men from frostbite. It didn't work as intended.
The men wore those spongy foam rubber suits and Mickey Mouse boots, back before the wisdom of dressing in layers and using fabrics that wick away moisture became common.
The men were supposed to shower at least once a week. But this was war, and they went a month before showering.
"When you were active, you'd sweat like a mule in them," Dorulla recalled. But that sweat worked against them when they became inactive. It soon became cold, and chilled them even more.
When soldiers go out on patrol, there's a lot of hiking and running, but there's also a lot of crouching down and waiting for the enemy to show signs of movement.
The soldiers developed rashes on their backs, underarms and elsewhere because of those suits. A doctor issued them sulfa pads to scrub each other's backs in the long-delayed shower.
It was welcome relief.
Serving on the front lines meant constant pressure, continually being under enemy attack.
He lost friends in the war, including one who "got his nose blown off" but said he would be OK. Dorulla later learned that soldier soon died at an aid station.
"I was always scared," Dorulla recalled.
Coming home, aboard the General Pope, was a different experience from both the rough seas en route to Korea and the conditions in Korea. The food was better, too, Dorulla said, as the kitchen crew would "cook us big steaks for lunch."
Soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq get a fond welcome home. Korean War veterans didn't get that kind of welcome.
Returning to the naval base at Pittsburg, Calif., awaiting processing before being discharged from the Army, Dorulla recalled seeing a sign near the base that said, "Dogs and GIs keep off grass."
Larry Skonie violated the Army's cardinal rule: Never volunteer for anything.
When someone asked, “Does anybody here have any experience in construction?” the Chicago native acknowledged he had been an apprentice bricklayer at U.S. Steel before the Korean War broke out and he got drafted.
The then-20-year-old GI discovered such meager credentials qualified him to supervise a half-dozen South Korean soldiers building “sheds” and “huts” for makeshift motor pools some 15 miles north of the 38th Parallel. The language barrier was overcome because the one South Korean who knew some English could relay Skonie's wishes to the rest.
The “garages” resembled pole barns, fashioned out of logs with canvas sides sewn together by the Koreans for work bays.
They were just a sideline.
The principle job for Skonie and his fellow 179th Infantry service company mechanics was to keep vehicles running — regardless of the weather, battlefield exposure and the Army fleet's age.
In the harsh winter months, when temperatures could drop to 30 below or worse, Skonie would most often be huddled over an engine compartment fixing popped clutches or tuning vintage World War II-era vehicles. The whole fleet would have been destined for the scrap heap if war hadn't interrupted the demobilization of the nation's armed forces after 1945.
“If we couldn't fix it there ... if we needed something major (like replacing a transmission), we had to send it to a division motor pool in Seoul or Inchon. They had more equipment,” Skonie said.
Parts for such antiquated rust buckets? The crew nearest the front lines resorted to cannibalizing vehicles knocked out of commission for replacements.
They couldn't work with gloves on, so heat was vital.
The Crown Point resident can only look at the cold-weather scene on today's National Football League sidelines in open-air stadiums with envy. No such heat blowers warmed benches for his team.
“We had heat inside from portable generators ... kerosene, fuel oil ... out of 8-inch pipes, but the cold was still there,” Skonie said.
On a good day, he estimated the temperature inside a stall was as much as 60 to 65 degrees.
All too frequently, crews were summoned to help tow trucks that slid off one of the many mud-filled roads on slopes ranging from hilly to mountainous. Skonie broke a finger when a winch cable snapped on one such towing call.
“We couldn't leave anything for them (Chinese or North Korean forces) to take,” he said.
They also had another detail that fell to the service company. One that didn't have anything to do with vehicle maintenance, as Skonie pointed out.
They retrieved the corpses of fallen comrades.
Most of the time, Skonie and his fellows tried not to think about the assignment, but there was one soldier “hung up on barb wire and all shot up pretty bad ... that got to me,” said Skonie, a 25-year officer with the Chicago police force who retired in 1989.
Gathering the dead wasn't a duty he or anyone else would have wanted to sign up for, but it was a stark reminder of the ferocious fighting going on just over a ridge in the days leading up to the end of the war.
The struggle for Pork Chop Hill, one of the bloodiest engagements of the entire war, took place near Skonie's station. They were “serenaded” at night by the bugles and flutes Chinese forces used before entering battle to signal their positions and frighten their enemy.
The five-day battle ended July 11, 1953, and 16 days later the truce was negotiated.
“The heaviest shelling we saw was the day that was announced,” Skonie said.
Ed Mech, 85, saw death face to face as a U.S. Army ambulance driver in the Korean War.
"I used to carry the wounded from the front lines to the rear echelon aid stations, and we dropped them off there," Mech, of DeMotte, said this month.
Mech recalled how U.S. patrols often got shelled at daybreak as they were returning from their nightly hunt for the enemy.
"One guy they brought in, his leg was just dangling, his arm wasn't that on," Mech said. "They put him in the aid station, and the doctor was taking care of him in the aid station, and I happened to look over there. I told the doc, I says, 'He's checking for that wound.' But I said, 'He's checking for that wound, but he's bleeding.' He was lying on that litter, and he bled to death on that stretcher. That guy, he didn't happen to make it."
Being a medic was a scary job, but Mech took it so he wouldn't have to be at the front line the whole time.
"I went back to the forward aid station," he recalled, "and I got an ambulance driver, and they offered me a rider with me, and I said, 'Well, is he going to carry a gun for me?'
"'He don't carry a weapon.'
"And I said, 'Why not?'
"'He's a conscientious objector.'
"I said, 'I don't want him.'
"So they got rid of him and gave me another guy that rode in the ambulance with me who carried a weapon for my protection, because we drove over the bones all the time. It was just blackout lights. You didn't have headlights or anything."
A red cross on the ambulance might as well have been the concentric circles of a bull's-eye for the enemy.
"You took the cross off the ambulance, because that was ... they didn't go by the Geneva Convention over there," Mech said.
"I used to pack a .45 and go up and down the trenches."
"We got shot upon quite a bit of times from down below," Mech said.
"We never took our clothes off. We laid with our clothes on when we went to bed," he said.
In the morning, an officer would come along and make sure all the men shaved.
Mech earned a combat medic medal for his service on the front line. That's not the only medal he earned, though.
"I was supposed to get one Bronze Star, which I never did get," Mech said.
He earned that medal by dashing into enemy territory to attack an enemy position.
"I went over the line," Mech said. "I took that grenade and threw it in that pill box." Then he ran back to relative safety.
"I didn't get shot upon or nothing."
Not that time, anyway.
Mech had a choice of staying in the service to wait for that medal or to go home. He chose to go home.
"He said, 'Well, you can always get it later,' but I never did get it," Mech said.
Carmen Foresta, of Dolton, said recently he, too, earned the Bronze Star in Korea and appealed to the Pentagon last fall to finally get it. He was turned down. Like many veterans of that era, his military records were destroyed in a warehouse fire in St. Louis.
Unlike Foresta, Mech still has his own copies of that paperwork. He might finally be recognized as a hero for his service in Korea.
Memorial Day 1953 proved to be one of the most terrible days of the Korean War for then Army Pvt. Louis Kaplan.
Eight months earlier, Kaplan had been one of 18 local men to report for Army duty on the steps of the old federal courthouse in Hammond.
By late May 1953, he was part of a small observation team stationed at a hilltop bunker in Korea overlooking a no man's land between fighting forces on both sides.
The days leading to Memorial Day were marked by sporadic shelling and occasional midnight attacks by the Chinese on U.S. military outposts. Lit by the orange glow of parachute flares, Chinese soldiers crossed the no man's land only to be fired on by U.S. artillery.
On the night of Memorial Day, the tables turned. Kaplan was outside the bunker when a nearby hill was hit with a massive barrage of enemy artillery fire. With everything around them exploding, Kaplan and his fellow GIs holed up in the bunker and waited.
Pinned down all night, they emerged to find shell craters all around them and their observation equipment destroyed. Miraculously, their bunker hadn't been hit. Only two days later did they learn their area had been the target of a massive Chinese attack that overan Outpost Vegas.
"It was probably the most frightening night of my life," Kaplan recalled more than 60 years later.
He and his bunker mates were not wounded. "I consider myself very lucky," Kaplan said.
Kaplan grew up in Whiting, the youngest of five brothers. His four older brothers all fought in World War II, earning the family the right to display four blue stars — one for each soldier — on a red and white banner in the front window of their home.
The Korean War was to be his war, Kaplan said.
Trained as a radio operator, Kaplan was quickly steered into the counterfire platoon, a highly specialized team assigned to pinpoint the location of enemy artillery using top-secret recording equipment and a trained ear.
"We had to be able to distinguish the sound of the muzzle blast from all the other many sounds the mikes were picking up," including machine gun fire, rifle fire, exploding artillery and mortar shells, Kaplan said.
"Based on where the sound was coming from, a compass point would be plotted and targeted for artillery fire," Kaplan said.
Neighboring Kaplan's hillside bunker overlooking the no man's land was a bunker occupied by a three-man Turkish observation team, part of a Turkish Army infantry brigade attached to the U.S. 25th Infantry Division.
The Turkish and U.S. soldiers became friends and shared meals and conversation.
"We talked about life in Turkey and life in (the U.S.)," Kaplan said.
"They were fearless fighters," he said of the Turkish soldiers. "They were brave beyond belief."
When a truce was called in July 1953, there was no celebration, because few believed it would last, Kaplan said.
In June 1954, after 14 months in Korea, Kaplan went home.
"It was a defining experience," Kaplan said of those 14 months. "I saw enough to know war is terrible."
Now retired, Kaplan spent the last several years writing a memoir of his time in Korea. The completed manuscript has been accepted by the Library of Congress. Kaplan hopes people can learn from it.
Anyone interested in obtaining a copy of Kaplan's "My War, A Memoir," may contact him at email@example.com.
The memories of battle have faded a bit, dates and years not easily accessible in his 81-year-old mind, but Bruce Ross, of Lansing, can still remember what Korea felt like all those years ago.
The extreme temperatures at the 38th parallel are etched into his brain, the hot days and the bitter cold nights.
"You were allowed to remove your shirt (during the day), but you could never remove your flak jacket or helmet," he said.
And at night it was so cold soldiers needed their long johns, parkas and a blanket to keep warm at their posts.
"That was all in a 24-hour period," he said.
Raised in Loda, Ill., in Iroquois County, Ross was 20 when he entered the U.S. Army on Dec. 3, 1952.
He was an outpost observer, searching for the enemy, providing screening fire for patrols and instituting firing missions where needed.
"People back in the States just didn't understand" the realities of the war, he said.
C-ration food, life in a bunker and the discipline required in the Army were definitely not like the comforts of home.
He remembers a time when his bunker got hit, he had to evacuate with "mortar fire and shrapnel coming down almost like rain."
"I thank God today I did not get one single scratch," he said.
Another time, while on outpost observation, he noticed a machine gun nest between two hills, and called for mortar fire. A patrol was sent out and Ross had to give feedback to commanders on enemy positions. After the fight, the hills were obliterated but so was the machine gun nest, he said.
He returned from war without any service-related injuries and several medals, including the National Defense Service Medal, a medal for good conduct, the United Nations Service Medal and the Bronze Star.
More recent depictions of life during the Korean War, such as the former television series "M*A*S*H," do not sit well with Ross.
"I did not like it at all, it was totally nonrepresentative of the Korean War," he said.
The current situation between North and South Korea saddens him.
"The conflict still exists. It's regretful that we can't have harmony among all the nations."
George Rosenbaum had some close calls in the Korean War, beginning with his trip to the Asian nation.
The seas were rough, with waves 40 to 50 feet high.* Eighty percent of the passengers were seasick. Rosenbaum, a Marine, said he didn't get sick, but it was close.
He was on board a ship with thousands of other men, told to stay below deck the whole journey. He didn't.
Rosenbaum, 83, of Wanatah, and another man decided to go up top and see what the ocean looked like. They climbed the stairs, opened the hatch and saw the ocean up close.
"We no more than stepped off of that step and it was like somebody had poured 10,000 gallons of water on us. A big wave had hit, and we came close to getting washed off. And if you did, it's all over."
It was a sobering thought. His friend thought so, too.
"He looked at me and said, 'You had enough?' And I looked at him and said, "You'd better believe it!" So we went back down just like a mouse going back into its hole."
Once in Korea, the dangers intensified. Even when relaxing, the troops had to be on edge.
"We just started a movie and an artillery shell landed in our company," Rosenbaum said. "And whenever you're close enough to an artillery shell and it explodes and you hear those pieces scream, they whistle when they go through the air — it's cast iron, the shells are made out of cast iron about 3/8ths inch thick, you know — but anyway, when you're that close, you're too close."
He also had some close calls while serving as a welder, repairing vehicles.
"We were just about a mile or so from the lines. A couple of times I got shot at," Rosenbaum said. "I would be welding with my hood down, and all at once I would hear a bullet. You know how a bullet sounds when it ricochets off something metal. So I crawled down under the buldozer and waited a bit."
"Whoever did it was a line crosser, because you couldn't tell the North Koreans from the South Koreans because they all looked alike, you know. That happened two or three times."
* This story has been changed from the original, to correct the estimated height of the waves.
The obsolete, World War II-era Army truck John R. Rattray Sr. called home for a year in Korea was "the most important vehicle we had" because GIs like their chow, the Korean War veteran said.
Rattray, a Gary native, and two other cooks spent all their time in the field from mid-1950 into 1951, preparing some meals — but more often coffee, rice and baked goods — for a 60-man artillery unit and passing infantrymen.
They never had the luxury of mess halls or mess tents during their tour traveling twisting, mountainous roads along the battle zone's ever-shifting front lines. They cooked, cleaned and slept in (or occasionally under) their mess truck, Rattray said.
It was the ultimate cooking challenge, far beyond anything television programmers could concoct.
Staff Sgt. Rattray remembered getting up at 4 a.m. to prepare breakfast on a kerosene stove, completing the task and then being told the unit was moving out immediately. As scarce as rations were, throwing anything away was out of the question. He and his kitchen mates packed everything up to be warmed over and served later.
"Finding water was the most difficult thing," he said.
Potable water for cooking and cleaning was vital while crossing the alternately dusty or muddy terrain.
Since one of their number was an experienced baker, they were among the few mess trucks to serve fruit cobblers.
"Nobody else wanted their flour (allocation). They didn't have any use for it," Rattray said.
Their cobblers gained such renown that Gen. Matthew Ridgway, commander of the U.S. Eighth Army and a champion of artillery-supported assaults, once dropped by for a helping.
The artillery battery with six howitzers always was on the move and just as vulnerable to ambush, wire-strewn booby traps and aerial bombardment as the rest of the convoy.
Rattray, who underwent basic training with the 101st Airborne as a paratrooper, had his closest brush with death from "friendly fire" when the unit's ammo truck became stuck in the mud.
He and others were lifting 155 mm shells from it to lighten its load when they were strafed by U.S. planes. A round came "within 4 feet of me," Rattray said.
He still can't hear any aircraft fly overhead or fireworks without ducking.
As part of the U.S. occupation force in Japan before going to cook and bakers school, Rattray was not trained for combat. He concedes he never developed the aplomb for hostilities he observed in British forces, who reportedly would break for tea in the midst of a pitched battle. British and Canadian troops were part of United Nations forces in their area.
Rattray, who had enlisted in the Army after his sophomore year at Edison High School in 1949, mustered out in 1951. He worked for many years as a pattern maker at East Chicago Pattern until a bout with cancer forced him into early retirement. Thirty years ago, doctors gave him two to five years to live, he said.
He and his wife, who live now in Schererville, had eight children, three boys and five girls, most of whom attended Calumet High School. They have 13 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. Rattray, a former bowler, now spends much of his time with family and gardening.
Eugene Hanyzewski Sr. had a mountaintop experience in the Korean War. Literally.
The radar installation where he was stationed was atop a relatively flat mountain. It offered good views not just by radar, for air traffic control, but visually as well.
Hanyzewski, 87, of Highland, was already an old hand when he went to that radar installation in Korea. He had already used the new technology in World War II.
Hanyzewski enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 to serve during World War II.
"My mother signed for me because I was only 17," he said.
By the Korean War, the U.S. Air Force had been established.
"The Korean War started in July of 1950, and Harry Truman activated my squadron," Hanyzewski said.
Hanyzewski was in an early warning squadron, where he supervised an eight-man crew, working six hours at a time.
"We scanned up to 120 miles into North Korea," Hanyzewski said, "and any enemy planes coming down, we would track them."
"The North Koreans didn't have much of an air force, so there wasn't too much activity there," he said.
One time, the activity wasn't on the radar screen but in the valley below. He saw "lines and lines of trucks coming down, bringing the (enemy) troops down. It was just an endless ... like in Chicago over here on I-94, truck after truck. We had a bird's-eye view of that because we seen the whole North Korean coast."
That was when the Americans had to pull back.
Getting to the mountaintop from the compound 6 miles to the south wasn't easy.
"I don't know who built the road, but it was quite an adventure to get up there," he said.
The harsh winters, with temperatures as low as 30 below zero, made it worse.
"Sometimes we'd have to shovel our way from the barracks to the mess hall," he said.
When he returned home, "It was like nothing had ever happened. I just picked up my life and went on from there."
Last year, Honor Flight Chicago sent Hanyzewski to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial. The Korean War Memorial was also on the itinerary.
"When we came back to the airport in Chicago, there were 1,500 people thanking me, and I got tears in my eyes because I had never been welcomed at home from the two wars I was in," Hanyzewski said. "So that gave me some closure."
Korean War veteran Manoly Traycoff didn't take a nationally known pop singer's vow seriously, but he took an induction center Army officer at his word.
He was mistaken in both instances.
Traycoff, who saw action on T-Bone Hill and Heartbreak Ridge, didn't spend all his Korean hitch on the front lines. The heavy weapons company GI was a self-described "bodyguard" for crooner Eddie Fisher, the father of Carrie Fisher — Princess Leia in the "Star Wars" movies— when the performer was appearing in USO shows in the area.
Fisher, generally considered the most successful pop singles artist of the first half of the 1950s, and Traycoff hit it off.
The Philadelphia native told his newfound buddy from Gary he would call Traycoff's parents when he got back stateside.
The 1949 graduate of Emerson High was astounded later when he learned Fisher had followed through with this pledge. Fisher also invited Traycoff to come to New York to see his nightclub act when he was discharged in July 1953, but Traycoff said he didn't have the money to make the trip.
At that point, he was focused on helping his Macedonian-born fiancee resolve her visa problems so they could get married and eventually settle down in Valparaiso, where they own the Viking Chili Bowl.
Little did Traycoff, who was born in Greece, know then that he had his own citizenship problems.
He mentioned his Greek lineage when he was at the induction center as a draftee in October 1951, but the officer at the front of the room told him to just raise his right hand, take the oath and "that'll take care of it."
Traycoff later found out from the Immigration and Naturalization Service that it doesn't work that way. He wound up going through the naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen years after his military service for his adopted country.
VALPARAISO | Stories of combat and death, of survival and camaraderie have been sealed in the mind of William Parks for more than 60 years.
Some he plans to take to the grave.
The 81-year-old served in the Army during the Korean and Vietnam wars. He agreed to be interviewed by The Times as part of the media company's participation in the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress.
"I've told you people more than I've ever told anybody," he said. "I just don't talk about it. I've lost some really close friends. Still makes me feel bad, after all these years."
Parks settled in to his brown recliner. A host of medals he received – including a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart – lay on a piece of felt on a table at his side. At his feet sat a cardboard box loaded with documents and photos.
One of his daughters, Sheila Chelf, and granddaughter Missy Carmichael gathered close to hear the stories.
He started at the beginning.
Parks was born in Gary. His family moved to California, then back to Indiana.
"At 16 years old, I joined the Army," he said.
He had to wait until he was older to serve. His service took him to basic training in Kentucky, then to Germany and Panama. He served in Korea and Vietnam.
"During the Korean War, I was a radio operator for a forward observer," he said. "The commander of the small unit that we went into the war (with) got himself killed. I went out and recovered his body. Then I got wounded and they wanted to evacuate me and I said, 'No. I'll stay right there.'"
The next day, the forward observer got killed, leaving Parks with the responsibility of the artillery.
"So I directed fire on the North Koreans, and there was only one reinforced rifle company, and we were up against three armored divisions," Parks said. "So we held 'em there for three days. They couldn't get through us. Killed a lot of them."
The enemy finally broke through.
"We were in hand-to-hand combat," Parks said.
Eventually, the enemy overran them.
"That's when I called for fire on my position and killed about 400 North Koreans," he said. "Then we escaped out of there and we were behind enemy lines for a while."
He was eventually evacuated.
Parks wouldn't delve into many of the details of his service, saying he worked in Special Forces and took an oath to never divulge his missions.
"I was a good soldier," he said. "I enjoyed it."
Parks has shared some stories with his family over the years, but not all of them.
They have seen the documentation that tells how, at 18, he suffered from dysentery after living on nothing but rice paddy water for two days. They read about his heroics in earning his medals. They heard of his paratrooper days.
But the details are up to Parks to tell.
After leaving the military, he settled in Portage with his wife, Wilma, and raised their four children. Parks took a job installing sewer lines and eventually became a boilermaker.
His children – Sheila Chelf, Teri McCormick, Linda Watson and Dan Parks – take care of him.
Parks lives with Chelf's family on the edge of Valparaiso, within sight of the 49er Drive-In Movie Theatre.
From his recliner, he can see out the picture window into woods dense with white oaks, and a lake.
"Everything I did was for love of my country," he said.
Joe Pupillo made a promise to God on a frigid battlefield in Korea 63 years ago that he believes saved his life and brought peace to the family of a fallen comrade.
"It was the best three years and three and a half months of my life to help me form and guide my direction and my place in the world," the 82-year-old Dyer man said of his Korean War service.
Pupillo, a Bishop Noll Institute graduate, grew up in Gary's Kirk Yard neighborhood where his father, an Italian immigrant, owned a shoe repair shop.
Pupillo worked to help the family, running paper routes and setting pins in a bowling alley. He forged his birth certificate to get a job working in the steel mill when he was 16.
Pupillo figured he would continue working at the mill after high school graduation, but a strike changed his plans.
Pupillo's friend had a brother in the Marines, and he decided to follow suit, enlisting on Oct. 14, 1949.
"I joined to do a man's job," he said. "What are you afraid of? Sure, you're apprehensive, but you can't afford to be afraid."
Pupillo befriended Minnesota brothers Ron and Bill Lilledahl on the ship to Korea. He chose his unit assignment on board and went into the machine gun squad with his new friends.
Pupillo, who described himself as "a 109-pound weakling," carried the heaviest part of the gun up and down Korea's hills.
"I had a lot of strength and stamina," he said, crediting his hard work as a kid in Gary.
The unit gathered on Thanksgiving 1950 near the edge of the Chosin Reservoir for a holiday meal on a spot the men dubbed "Turkey Hill."
"They cleared out the area and brought in hot turkey dinners," he said. "I never cared for turkey, but it was good, a change from C-rations."
His unit returned to Turkey Hill two days later to relieve a company in distress.
Pupillo and friend Ron Lilledahl settled down in a foxhole when an officer said one needed to go along the flank.
"I was always taught, when my father told me to do something, you do it now," he said. "I jumped up and was handed a rifle."
He was stationed with a dozen Marines behind a rock wall overnight. When the sun rose, Pupillo heard gunfire in the distance, but his post was quiet.
"All of a sudden, I heard two Chinese voices," Pupillo said. "Then I became afraid.
"I made a vow to my God that if you save me from this, I would do nothing but good things for the rest of my life."
He grabbed his rifle, jumped up, and saw two young enemy soldiers standing in front of him. He emptied the eight-round clip, and the men dropped to the ground.
"I ran like hell ... I went to the foxhole where Ron was, and I observed he had been shot in the jaw or face," he said.
Pupillo had to tell Ron's brother, Bill, about his death.
"I saw Ron put on the truck, and he had his dog tags and everything," Pupillo said, saying that was key to ensuring bodies were identified and returned home.
Pupillo was discharged in 1953 and soon got a job as a door-to-door salesman.
"I didn't want to go into the open hearth furnace (at the steel mill)," he said.
Pupillo worked a host of sales jobs, married, had children and lived around the country before returning to Northwest Indiana, where he settled in Dyer in the 1980s.
In 2002, Pupillo got a call from Ron Lilledahl's niece saying his body was never returned to his family for a military burial.
Pupillo was able to provide key information about the location and circumstances of Lilledahl's death that led to his body being positively identified at the military morgue in Hawaii and returned to his family.
"They had a big funeral in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and I went there," Pupillo said. "They flew his body in at the airport. They had the honor guard. The place was mobbed with people."
Pupillo said he takes great pride in his military service, and now has a closer relationship with God.
"I've always gone to bed at night saying, 'Thank you, God, for giving me another day,'" he said.
Ted Erceg spent 63 years wondering if the boy who grew up a block away in Gary's Kirk Yard neighborhood made it out of the Korean War alive.
Erceg, a soldier in the U.S. Army, and childhood friend Joe Pupillo, a Marine, ran into each other on a hill in Korea some 7,000 miles from home during the war on Oct. 20, 1950, and didn't see each other again.
Last week, The Times reunited the men after Times Videographer Brian Vernellis realized the connection.
"Joe! I'd be lying if I said you didn't change a bit," Erceg said as the pair embraced through laughter and tears Tuesday.
"We're lucky, blessed or fortunate that we're alive," Pupillo said.
In August, Vernellis recorded video of Erceg as part of The Times' ongoing series documenting the stories of local Korean War veterans. He did the same with Pupillo about three weeks later.
It wasn't until late October when Vernellis was editing the video he shot of Erceg and heard him say the name Joe Pupillo that he made the connection.
"My jaw hit the floor, and my heart started beating faster because I knew we just interviewed him," Vernellis said. "He said he hadn't seen him since."
The Times contacted the men and arranged the reunion at the newspaper's Crown Point office last week. Pupillo lives in Dyer, just 25 miles from Erceg's Valparaiso home.
"I met you on the road," Erceg told Pupillo during the reunion. "You were marching up going on the hill. I had 'Gary, Indiana' on my jacket. I heard a guy call, 'Hey, Gary!' and that was you ... You opened a can of C-rations, some kind of slop."
Pupillo offered some to Erceg, but he declined. They visited for about 10 minutes, then went their separate ways.
Erceg said he kept two books when he was in Korea, one with the radio procedures he needed to follow as a radio operator and the other as a calendar/diary where he kept daily entries.
"That little book kept me company that whole year," Erceg said. "I thought if I ever write down my experiences in Korea, I have to find some way to write it down."
He kept the journal for years after the war and lost it in a move.
Erceg, now 83, wrote about his experiences in the war, including the chance meeting with Pupillo, in an article in the September/October 2013 edition of Serb World USA.
"That is the last time we speak. I will not hear from him ever again," Erceg wrote of his encounter with Pupillo.
Erceg grew up at 268 Harrison St. and Pupillo at 237 Tyler St., just one block away.
Erceg recalled the shoe shop owned by Pupillo's father, Tony's Repair Shop, at 825 West Fourth Ave. in Gary. Pupillo, now 82, brought a photo from the shop to the reunion.
"His dad and my dad were pretty good friends because they knew each other from the shoe shop," Erceg said. "His dad and my dad were as completely different as two individuals could be, but they had the same work ethic."
Both were first-generation Americans -- Pupillo's father was Italian and Erceg's was Serbian -- and enlisted in the service.
"We were proud to be Americans, and we wanted to do our duty," Pupillo said.
The friends laughed and cried remembering the old neighborhood and time served for their country.
"You've got a nice sense of humor," Erceg told Pupillo. "You always did."
They asked about each other's families as their wives, Kathleen Pupillo and Donna Erceg, chatted and watched. They learned both men went into sales before retiring.
Erceg said he took a job at Valparaiso High School after retirement and once encountered a student named Pupillo.
"I said, 'Pupillo? Who is your dad?'" Erceg said, hoping the boy might link him to his childhood friend, but found he did not know Joe.
"I did try to get ahold of you," Erceg told Pupillo.
"It's funny how life works," Pupillo said.
Vernellis, the videographer who orchestrated the reunion, was there when the men met again last week.
"I was just excited for both of them because it meant so much for them on that hill in Korea," Vernellis said. "Now for it to come full circle, I don't know if it's fate that we're doing this series, but everything all just clicked and fell in line."
Vernellis said he got a lump in his throat more than once during the reunion.
"As we were walking them out -- they were saying their goodbyes -- you knew that this friendship was starting up again," Vernellis said. "That's the best part."
CALUMET CITY | Thomas Crane has a purpose in the poetry he writes for veterans.
"I want them to know that I feel what they feel," Crane said. "I want to let these guys know that I have empathy for them. They aren't forgotten."
Crane is an 80-year-old veteran, poet and Calumet City resident. His poem "In Honor of the World War II Vets and Their Monument" will be read at the Veterans Day ceremony Monday at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Crane sent his poem to Jim Fisher, executive director of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial, and Fisher asked if Crane would have it read. Crane won't be in attendance, though. He'll be watching on TV.
"It was just one of those lucky shots (to have my poem chosen)," Crane said.
The Korean War veteran was only 13 years old when World War II ended. But he has relatives and friends who did serve during the war, including a cousin who spent time in a German prisoner of war camp.
"We did have holdovers from the Second World War. I served (in Korea) with a number that saw action at Normandy and other places," Crane said. "It was part of the family for me. It was part of growing up."
The G.I. Bill afforded Crane the chance for an education. The native of Woodlawn took night school classes to earn a degree in education and worked for the University of Chicago until getting laid off in 1984. That gave him more time to dedicate to writing.
"Later in life I had time to spare to write and compose and to think," he said. "That's when it all happened."
Much, but not all, of his poetry is related to the military and veterans. Crane said there's a brotherhood among veterans, even those who didn't fight under an American flag. That's who he writes for and about. He's corresponded with other veterans from other wars and even other countries.
Crane's book of poetry "Green is the Valley, Blue are the Hills" can be purchased or read for free online at fethard.com/crane.
"Writing is a matter between the heart and the soul," Crane said. "You really have to feel it."
For Ted Erceg, seeing Korean War refugees travel through hard-crusted snow in 40 below zero temperatures amid Siberian winds was bad. Worse yet, they were tramping through it in sandals, the former soldier originally from Gary recalled.
Whether it was the children who were so lightly garbed or the elderly who were shepherded along by their daughters or daughters-in-law, Erceg "felt sorry for them" throughout his stay in the war zone.
An Army Signal Corps radio operator teamed with a Marine unit, Erceg made the Inchon amphibious landing with the Leathernecks on Sept. 15, 1950. Lacking training on the cargo nets, he banged his helmeted head against the ship's gunwales while descending into a landing craft. The coxswain piloting the LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle/Personnel) saw the Gary, Ind., insignia on his jacket and mentioned something about Black Oak, but Erceg was too nervous and dazed at that point to get his name, he recalled.
Once on land, what he saw of Inchon was little more than rubble, not unlike what he had seen of Seoul.
Despite vowing "this amphibious stuff is not for me," his unit was sent to Wonsan for another landing weeks later, but in a far different circumstance. Instead of a hail of gunfire, Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell had prepared the port for an early USO Christmas performance in what Erceg called a mistake.
Indeed, some accounts suggest the landing of the 1st Marine Division was delayed "because of mines" even after comedian Hope and troupe had been there and left.
Among the more impressive feats Erceg saw was Marine engineers take Treadway bridge sections and stones to build a single-lane road through the mountains at Funchilin Pass in temperatures as low as 20 degrees below zero.
"They built it in a blizzard," he recalled. "You gotta hand it to the Marines."
Not that he was oblivious to creature comforts, but Erceg learned to wrap himself in a tarpaulin to sleep outside his radio shack for fear marauding enemy soldiers might take shots at his antenna-topped shelter at night.
After mustering out of the service at Camp Carson in 1951, Erceg went to a wedding reception where he renewed acquaintances with a young neighbor he knew from the Kirk Yard section of Gary. He married her in 1954, and their three daughters gave them six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He sold pharmaceuticals in the area for a number of years.
Looking back at the war, he thinks the contrast between the communist North, where the people "have nothing," and democratic South, which is a modern industrial state, proves it was well worth the effort even if the GIs who fought in the war received little recognition.
"People were tired of war" so soon after World War II, and the troops returned from Korea without parades and fanfare.
"I envied the pilots," Erceg said of his war experiences, "not because they were exposed to less danger, because they weren't -- they could be shot down -- but because they didn't have to see the devastation."
VALPARAISO | The Forgotten War. The No-Win War. The "died for a tie" war.
That's how retired Maj. Gen. Dean Sangalis described the Korean War to about 50 people, many of them Korean War veterans and their families, who attended Thursday's Veterans Day observance at Valparaiso University Center for the Arts. The event was in tribute to those who fought in the war that, Sangalis said, technically, still isn't over.
Sangalis, the main speaker for the event, presented a quick history of the war in which about 3 million people were killed, most of them civilians. He said it was the first war in which jets were used and where brainwashing became known.
"Sixty years later we are still in a truce," the retired Marine said. The sides were supposed to meet again to draw up the final peace treaty a few months after the fighting ended, but they never did and no treaty has ever been approved by the U.S. Congress or signed by either side.
Times Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross introduced a video montage of interviews with Korean War veterans being collected by The Times for the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress. Ross said 60 veterans from the area have been located so far, and he is learning about some of the experiences his own father might have had from the interviews.
"I'd like to say I never had the opportunity to talk to my father about his experiences," Ross said. "The truth is I never took the opportunity to talk to him."
One of those featured in the montage is Charles "Mike" Mikovetz, of Crown Point, who attended Thursday's observance and described it as "fantastic."
"It's telling a little bit of the hardships we faced," Mikovetz said. "I appreciated being able to see myself once more in uniform when they came to my house (to film the interview). A lot of things they asked me I forgot."
George Rosenbaum, of Wanatah, was interviewed a week ago. He wasn't in the montage but thought it was very good. Rosenbaum said he didn't know any of the men on the video. He was in Korea a year and a week, working on bulldozers as a welder, occasionally under fire from snipers. He said he hid under them until the shooting stopped.
Sangalis predicted the world would not see any more worldwide conflicts, like World War I or II, but would face limited conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan. The video concludes with a veteran saying, "War is stupid," and America should bring its soldiers home.
The event was sponsored by the VU Air Force ROTC and Army ROTC, the VU Chamber Concert Band, One Region and The Times.
The Times Media Co., Valparaiso University and One Region are co-sponsoring a free Veterans Day concert at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Center for the Arts on the Valparaiso University campus.
Veterans and others interested in attending can find it at 1709 Chapel Drive, Valparaiso.
Retired Marine Corps Gen. Dean Sangalis will offer brief remarks, and The Times will present a video montage of reminiscences by area Korean War veterans. The Valparaiso University Chamber Concert Band will perform patriotic music, and the VU Air Force ROTC and Army ROTC will participate as well.
Everyone is invited to the concert.
Charles "Mike" Mikovetz wears two pairs of socks to keep his feet warm. Even in the summer.
He drags a fold-up stool with him when he leaves the house so he has a place to sit when his feet go numb after two or three minutes of standing. And he wears a support belt to brace his back.
The 81-year-old Crown Point man traces today's health problems to injuries he suffered more than six decades ago while serving in the Korean War.
He wrecked his back when, while patrolling, his Jeep flipped and pinned him to the ground. Nerve damage crept down to his feet. And, like many of his comrades, he suffered from frostbite brought on by extreme cold.
As he and his fellow Korean War veterans mark 60 years since the end of the war, many are now octogenarians feeling the long-term health effects of combat. Mikovetz, who received a Purple Heart, among other medals, is among those still waiting for compensation on his injuries.
He filed a claim about a year ago, but he has heard stories of Korean War and World War II vets' claims caught up in so much red tape that they die before seeing a penny.
His wife of 61 years, Irene Mikovetz, said she tells him to give up, that he's wasting his time trying to get compensated.
The Griffith-raised veteran waited so long to file a claim because he wanted work. When he returned from the war and talked about getting a job in a steel mill, friends warned him the mills wouldn't hire someone with an injury, he said.
His service records were among millions destroyed in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center near St. Louis, which added a snag to his request. Now, his claim is being processed, and he gets regular letters asking him to be patient.
Out in the cold
Frigid weather accounted for 16 percent of Army nonbattle injuries in the Korean War, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Korean War used Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) units that served as hospitals in combat areas. But battlefield conditions prohibited many service members from obtaining medical treatment for their cold weather injuries, according to the department.
"Korea in winter is a nightmare," Mikovetz said.
When they first arrived in Inchon Harbor in Korea, he and his comrades climbed over the side of the ship and into smaller boats that shuttled them to shore. They waited overnight in the severe cold, still wearing summer-issue fatigues.
"I didn't care where I was going," he said. "We wanted warm clothes to wear. We didn't realize Korea was going to be that cold. It's worse than anything around here."
Those cold-weather injuries make veterans more susceptible to peripheral neuropathy, skin cancer in frostbite scars, cold sensitization, fallen arches and arthritis in affected areas, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"These cold-related problems may worsen as veterans grow older and develop complicating conditions such as diabetes and peripheral vascular disease, which place them at higher risk for late amputations," the department states.
Mikovetz had surgery on his spine at the Mayo Clinic. The pain still limits him, he said.
He's a member of a support group for Korean War vets. They meet monthly at the Gary Area Vets Center in Crown Point.
Tina Austin, a social worker there, runs the group. Anyone interested in joining can call her at (219) 736-5633.
"They're a wonderful group of men," she said.
Topics vary. Sometimes they talk about their war memories. They've talked about the impact of the government shutdown, of what life was like before the war and what it's like growing old, she said.
They learn how to share their war stories with family. Some have grandchildren who don't know they served in the war or even what the Korean War was, she said.
"The topic changes based on their interest," she said.
Access to support and treatment
Not all vets are within driving range of a support group or veterans hospital.
Some live hundreds of miles from the nearest clinic, let alone a full veterans hospital, said Ted Barker, administrator of the Dallas-based nonprofit Korean War Project, which he and his brother Hal Barker founded.
Black veterans have disproportionate access to care and transportation, he said.
"It's amazing how many men have not availed themselves to the services of Veterans Services," Barker said. "Some are in their 80s, and it's the first time seeking care. A lot had shrapnel or metal pieces they continue to carry them today."
Aside from extreme cold, concussion injuries from artillery and mortar created havoc on a lot of men's health, he said.
"There's a whole range of issues," he said.
More than 100,000 military members were exposed to flea and rat bites, leading to hantavirus, he said.
And post traumatic stress disorder was handled differently 60 years ago.
"They called it shell shock," Barker said. "It's a career-ender when you come down to it, if you report it. Sixty years ago, if you came in with battle fatigue, they'd say, 'Get over it.'"
Vets who do seek care often face long waits because the VA is overwhelmed and behind on claims, Barker said.
It can take months or years for claims to be processed. The recent government shutdown disrupted the process, causing even more of a setback, he said.
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