A fitting tribute to Korean War veterans

The directors of Korea/Vietnam Memorial Inc. held a beautiful, heartfelt tribute to the Lehigh Valley’s Korean War veterans Sunday at Lehigh Carbon Community College. I’ve been to many such events over the years, but this was one of the most stirring.

Turnout was spectacular, causing a 40-minute delay in the start of the program as college President Don Snyder arranged to open up two partitions for more seating. Where the organizers had made seating available for as many as 277 people, and figured there’d be considerably fewer, more than 400 people showed up.

LCCC’s Schnecksville campus is the home of the U.S. Armed Forces Plaza, which commemorates those who served in all American wars, and the plaza’s Korea/Vietnam Memorial, which was dedicated in 2005.

The highlight Sunday centered on Army Col. David J. Clark, who heads the Defense Department’s 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee. He spoke about remembering those who served and their sacrifices, and presented certificates to the Korean War veterans or their family members.

Standing ramrod-straight and showing great deference as he went out into the audience to deliver the papers, Clark was an exemplary ambassador from the Pentagon. To me, it was the most poignant part of the afternoon. Eighty-five vets were honored. Each name was announced to applause.

I was grateful to have a small role in the ceremony. Bob Wolfe of the Korea/Vietnam Memorial organization based in Fogelsville had invited me to speak briefly about my book, War Stories: In Their Own Words, and to offer copies for sale. I sat up front, facing the audience, with special honoree Jim Snyder Jr. beside me – he lost both of his legs to a mortar shell in South Korea.

Early in the program, I followed Don Snyder, state Rep. Gary Day and Sukwon Lee, representing the Korean American Association of the Lehigh Valley, to the lectern.

Here’s what I said:

In the mid ’90s I got interested in a cousin of mine who was killed in Vietnam. He was an Army helicopter pilot, 20 years old. He went to Vietnam in the summer of 1969, he was assigned to the Americal Division at Chu Lai, and he was dead in 11 days.

His name was Nicky, and I hardly knew him. I asked my uncles about him, and they ended up telling me about their own war experiences. Here I found I had a whole parade of uncles who had served in World War II and Korea in far-flung places – from the Aleutians to North Africa to Bora Bora. One of them died from a World War II injury five years after the war ended.

My dad was also in World War II, with the Coast Guard in the North Atlantic. But by the time I was interested in talking to him, it was too late. He had already drifted deep into the fog of Alzheimer’s.

My uncles, my dad, they were ordinary people who saw and did extraordinary things.

Thirteen years ago I began interviewing veterans like them for The Morning Call. Now there are about 90 stories in my series, War Stories: In Their Own Words. Last fall, the newspaper published a collection of my stories in a book of the same name. It’s 34 of my interviews with men and women from the World War I era, World War II, the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam.

I am not a veteran. So for me, this is about payback. It’s my way of saying to you: Thank you for serving our country.

During the reception after the ceremony, I looked for Col. Clark and shook his hand. I told him that the sincerity and respect he showed while presenting the certificates to the veterans or their relatives had brought tears to my eyes.

He replied, “It’s the least we can do for them.”

My sentiment exactly.

 

 

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