Monday, November 29, 2010

War clouds rekindle vet's bad memories

A miserable country.

I'll never forget Bill Field's words.

He was talking about Korea of 60 year ago.

I'd done a piece on the East Hampton, N.Y., native and American Legion Kirby Stewart Post 24 commandant in July 1999 for the 46th anniversary of the Korean War armistice.

A miserable country.

I'm reminded of Field's words because of escalating tensions on that peninsula after North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last Tuesday, killing four South Koreans.

That follows the unresolved torpedoing of a South Korean warship killing 46 sailors last March.

North Korea's belligerence may have pushed its neighbor too far this time.

Will Uncle Sam, who dispatched a carrier battle group for joint exercises with South Korea as a show of force, be dragged into another Korean conflict?

The first was enough for Bill Field.

The day after he got his high school diploma in June 1950, 135,000 Communist North Korean troops invaded South Korea. Three months later, he was there with the First Cavalry Division, fighting in a war that lasted a little more than three years. It was a bitter struggle.

"One-hundred twenty degrees in the shade in summertime and 30 below in wintertime," he said in the story. "From April to June it rained every day. From September to November it snowed. Mud up to your ankles. Sitting in foxholes with water up to here. Sitting under two GI blankets on top of a mountain in 30 below. You couldn't dig a hole because the ground was frozen. No trees, no nothing. If there was any beauty to that land, I never saw it."

Field saw enough bloodshed.

Late in October 1950, he was with U.N. forces who had pushed deep into North Korea and reached within 20 miles of the Yalu River separating North Korea from Manchuria. Then 300,000 Communist Chinese troops began charging across the border, driving the Allies back into South Korea. Both sides dug in along a line north of the 38th parallel as truce talks began in July 1951. The war would drag on for two more years as both sides fought for strategic pieces of territory to be used like chips at the bargaining table.

"We'd take a place, the Chinese overran it, then we'd retake it," said Field, who was wounded by mortar shrapnel. "It was bloody and nothing was ever resolved."

An armistice agreement was signed July 27,1953, but not before 53,000 Americans were dead.

"It's an experience you live through once," Field said. "There are a lot of ideals you have as a young boy that you don't have after you've been through combat and you see your best buddy get killed.

"I was 19, but I felt like an old man."

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