Korean War

Memorial Day 1953 memorable for Korean War vet

2014-01-12T20:30:00Z 2014-01-13T08:40:04Z Memorial Day 1953 memorable for Korean War vetSusan Erler susan.erler@nwi.com, (219) 662-5336 nwitimes.com
January 12, 2014 8:30 pm  • 

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 alkmlk@juno.com.

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