Soldiers

AP Photo by Gene Herrick

Two wounded American soldiers, lying on stretchers on a Jeep, hold hands for each other’s comfort, during a battle next to the Naktong River, not far from Taegu South Korea during the Korean War in 1950.

Something that we do once a year should be done every day, and that is honor this country’s military veterans.

Sacrificing one’s life for a period of time – war and peace – is the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

There have been wars and veterans, almost from the beginning of time. The U.S. has had its share of both. In our hearts, all veterans are heroes, with millions sacrificing their lives to preserve the honor and freedom of our country.

Lest we forget, we also honor the millions of families who have sacrificed a loved one to the tragedies of war and battled to function while their loved one was almost daily facing the enemy onslaught of bullets and facing — close-up — the spear of death or serious wounding.

The heroes, who have given their lives, lie in cemeteries around the world; some in burial places of beautiful tribute, others in trenches where they died in inglorious battle and others whose bodies no longer existed. Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt said it best, “War is hell.”

As a war correspondent at the beginning of the 1950 Korean War (Conflict as the politicians labeled it), I witnessed, firsthand, the brutality of war and the inhumanity of it all.

I’ve seen soldiers shot or bombed, and the suffering that went with it. I’ve seen their buddies come to their aid under thunderous conditions. I’ve seen the bodies of those great American soldiers who took their last bullet. I’ve also seen the same with British troops, who fought alongside our troops, and in a land of primitiveness, mountains, rain and freezing temperatures.

As a photo journalist, I went from the southernmost town in South Korea to the northernmost town in North Korea; from blasting heat and rain to snow and temperatures of 20 degrees below zero all of the time.

I also visited and worked from the decks of many U.S. Navy ships in the Sea of Japan. The leaders and crews of our floating military bare a stalwart group. It takes a certain kind of person to serve on a ship, especially in a war zone. I always felt like a sitting duck, but our sailors and officers faced life — and death — head-on.

The Air Force also has pilots and crews, especially in a war zone like Korea, and are a brave bunch of our American fighting forces. In Korea, the jet fighter pilots fought a tremendous battle of bombing and staffing the enemy. They flew so fast that they had to be guided by American pilots flying little Piper Cub spotter planes. The little planes would dive down and then pull away so that the speeding jets could drop their bombs on the enemy. It was a very dangerous job. I personally knew many of the pilots of the little planes. Often I would spend the night with a unit of the 17th Regiment, of the 7th Division. They would fly me to the front every day, drop me off on a narrow dirt road and then go and do their spotting for the fighter planes. They would rendezvous later and then fly back to headquarters for the night.

During my time there, I took hundreds, and hundreds of battlefront pictures. I went to the front lines every day and covered our young men doing their patriotic job; fighting an unseen enemy, which was cagey and very dangerous. I came close to losing my life as well. Two pictures come to mind that seem symbolic – one was at the Naktong River in South Korea, which showed two wounded American GIs, both lying on stretchers in a Jeep and holding hands to comfort each other. I was emotionally moved to see this. It had been a bad bombing from enemy artillery across the river. The other was a picture I took of six American soldiers, dressed in heavy winter clothing, standing in the frozen Yalu River, waving their rifles in the air with Russia and Manchuria on the other side. It was at least 20 degrees below zero.

Speaking of irony, some five years after my return from the war, I was assigned to cover a PGA golf tournament in Oklahoma. I stopped for a bite to eat at a roadside diner there. The waitress and I talked for awhile, and she said, “My brother fought in the Korean War.” I said, “Is that right?” She responded, “Yes, and I even have a picture of him at the Yalu River.” I responded, “Was he one of six soldiers standing in the river waving their guns with Manchuria in the background?” With a look of dismay, she responded, “Why, yes, how did you know?” I responded, “I took the picture.” We were both chilled by the moment and memory.

Earlier, I covered the National American Legion Convention in St. Louis. There were thousands of former GIs there for a whole week. One day, they held their parade. I needed to take pictures of specific groups for hometown newspapers. The parade temperature was 100 degrees, and the groups passed by for 10 hours. That was not one of my favorite stories to cover.

To this day, when I see a veteran wearing a military cap, I stop for a little conversation and sometimes share memories of a war. Our hair may be gray, but our memories and honor glow on. There is a brotherhood of those who have been in battle and a visible honor for having done so.

I have found that our veterans are honorable, proud and very sensitive in honoring their fallen brotherhood of battlefield buddies. I have also found that if you have never experienced the emotions of battle and to-the-death comradeship of military life, you may not understand the deep being of the human soul in battle.

Yes, military veterans of our old mother United States, yes, man and woman, yes even those who are not citizens, we, the humble and thankfully, honor you for what you have given and devoted to the longevity and pride of our country of freedom.

Thank you!

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