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Korean War veterans honored 60 years after service

By Jed Boal | Posted - Apr 24th, 2013 @ 11:16pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — As a young Marine in the Korean War, John Cole endured some of the fiercest fighting and most brutal weather American forces have ever faced.

"See this name right here, William E. Wagner?" he asked points to the name on the Utah Korean War Memorial at Memory Grove Park. "He was the best man in my wedding."

Cole lost close friends and comrades too. Wednesday, the Roy resident was honored with 200 other Utah veterans of the so-called "Forgotten War" for the sacrifices they made 60 years ago.

"Many people didn't even know where Korea was on the map," said Colonel David J. Clark, director of the Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee.

Veterans across the nation have been invited to a tribute ceremony in Washington, D.C., on July 27 — the anniversary of the day the Korean War Armistice was signed in 1953.

Over the past few months, Clark has been traveling the country to participate in smaller commemoration ceremonies for veterans, most of whom will not make it to Washington for the July event.

While many Americans knew nothing of Korea, three years of brutal battle was enough to make Utah veterans never forget.

"So many people didn't recognize what had happened," Cole said. "We did, because we were there; but many people didn't."

Cole and Charlie Pharr, are Army veterans who survived the month-long Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, one of the fiercest fights of modern warfare. Both talked of that hellish experience during Wednesday's ceremony.

Fifteen thousand Americans troops fought waves of Chinese soldiers, they said, in temperatures that hovered 40 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit).

"The main thing I remember was not the pain from being wounded," Cole said, "but the pain from the weather, the cold, cold weather."

Three thousand Americans died in that 78-mile retreat.

Clark said the "thanks" the Korean veterans are now receiving is the culmination of three years of work.

"It's probably one of the most significant jobs I've ever done in the military," he said, having served 30 years.

Wednesday, Clark presented the Utah veterans certificates of appreciation.

"When they came back from the Korean War, they did not receive the accolades that some of their predecessors received," Clark said.

A total of 141 Utahns were killed in the Korean War. All of their names are etched in the stone of the monument in Memory Grove.

In all, 17,000 Utahns served in the Korean War, and Cole said many are still perplexed that while the fighting ended six decades ago, the U.S. still in conflict with North Korea.

"They still are priming for war, and it's scary," Cole said.

That doesn't sit well with him and his fellow comrades. "You talk to every Korean War veteran today, and they'll say, 'I'm ready to go back, we'll finish it this time. We're not going to let politicians stop us,'" he said.

While Cole would rather he be able to neatly put it all in the past and close that chapter with North Korea, at least our country has no longer forgotten the soldiers' sacrifices, he said.


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