WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- Some 50
Korean War veterans, mostly in their 80s, recently attended
the opening of the Korean War 60th Anniversary Exhibit at
Called the "forgotten war" because it
was overshadowed by memories of World War II, Vietnam and
Desert Storm, the conflict took the lives of nearly 37,000
American service members, and ended in a stalemate, July 27,
1953. On that date, 60 years ago this month, belligerents of
the conflict ended hostilities with the signing of the
Korean Armistice Agreement.
July 2, 2013 - Korean War veterans Robert C. Mount (left) and Edmund
L. Reel (right) were among about 50 former Soldiers who were honored
at a ribbon-cutting ceremony opening the Pentagon's 60th Anniversary
Exhibit of the armistice between South and North Korea, which was
signed July 27, 1953. (U.S. Army photo by Alex Dixon)
Following remarks by
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, two former Soldiers shared
a few of their unforgettable experiences on the Korean
Peninsula -- one as a prisoner of war, and one as a combat
BORED IN NEW YORK
As a young man,
upstate New Yorker Robert C. Mount, now 81, was bored with
small-town life. At 17, he dropped out of high school and
enlisted with three of his buddies.
"We boys decided
a nice thing to do was go in the Army," Mount said.
By the time he turned 18, he had earned his high school
diploma and attained the rank of corporal. At the time, he
was serving in Hawaii as regimental clerk with the 72nd
Combat Regiment Engineers, 5th Regimental Combat Team. By
the end of July 1950, barely a month into the war, his unit
deployed to reinforce the 8th Army at the Pusan Perimeter.
"When we got to Korea, the company commander called me
up to be company clerk, but I didn't want that because
sitting in a tent with those officers would have driven me
crazy," Mount said. "He put me in a squad, and the only job
that hadn't been filled was demolition man. I went to the
demolition expert for the platoon and he instructed me on
what I needed to know."
The next thing Mount knew,
the unit was on the Pusan Perimeter. Both American Soldiers
and United Nation's forces held there while reinforcing the
line with some 500 medium tanks, and while building the
boots-on-the-ground force by a nearly two-to-one ratio over
the Korean People's Army, or KPA. Finally, UN forces broke
out Sept. 15, 1950, pursuing the KPA northward.
the same time Gen. Douglas MacArthur was landing an invasion
force at Inchon to the west of Seoul, Mount's regiment and
the 8th Army were moving north across the Yalu River. This
was part of the two-prong offensive push to move the KPA
across the 38th Parallel, the border since 1945.
"When we left there and headed north we came to a bridge and
our group happened to be last," Mount said. "The platoon
leader came up and said take a detail and keep this bridge
open in case we have to retreat. I'm thinking, I'm an
18-year old corporal, what do I know about keeping a bridge
open? Nothing. That scared the life out of me."
saw on the opposite side of the bridge the bodies of a dozen
North Koreans who had been killed when the infantry went
through. He thought they should be checked out to make sure
there was no life.
He checked them out personally, he
said, adding that in retrospect, "not knowing much at the
time, I didn't know enough to send some private over there
to do it. I went over myself, and well, there wasn't any
life there. So it all worked out."
The war's momentum
had been working to the advantage of UN forces as they
pushed the KPA across the border and into the north. But
good fortune began to change by late October, Mount said.
"We got up to the Yalu River, then things got
interesting," Mount said. "Since I was with the combat
engineers, we worked wherever we were needed. They sent my
company up to join a South Korean division. We got there
about dark, and the platoon leader's driver tells me that he
had driven the platoon leader up to the top of the mountain.
He looked down on the river and saw the Chinese coming
across in droves."
The next day, before dawn, Mount's
division retreated. That retreat gave them about a half-day
head-start before MacArthur gave official orders to retreat.
The Chinese, by the hundreds of thousands, had entered
the war on the side of the North Koreans. The sheer numbers
dominated the unprepared and overstretched Republic of Korea
Army and U.S. Army, and would lead to multiple Chinese
victories during the winter of 1950-1951.
By June, UN
forces were increased enough to organize a defensive line
not far from the 38th Parallel. That renewed effort halted
the Chinese advance. A series of offensives on both sides
resulted in a battle line much like the trench warfare of
World War I, with a resulting stalemate.
UN passed a resolution for a negotiated end to the war. The
first peace talks, between the Americans, South Koreans,
Chinese and North Koreans were set for August 1951. Another
23 months passed before an armistice was signed. Both Koreas
The agreement kept the border where
it had been since the end of World War II, at roughly the
38th Parallel. More than half the American Soldiers killed
during the entire war were lost after the peace talks had
Mount would eventually be discharged after he
got home to New York, but he didn't return unscathed.
"I was visiting my aunt in Buffalo and was driving back
to my hometown about 50 miles away, when I had a head-on
collision," he recalled. "The police thought I was drunk, or
on drugs, but my wife convinced them I was having a malaria
attack, and I wound up in a Veterans Affairs hospital for a
While hospitalized he was counseled on his
military benefits and getting more education. He took them
up on the offer, and enrolled in college, where he studied
finance. Married for 61 years and long since retired as vice
president and senior audit manager for an international
bank, he said, "you can say life has treated me pretty
Mount said he'd lost contact with his fellow
Soldiers until he joined Chapter 142 of the Korean War
Veterans Association in Frederick County, Md.
started getting back together and having reunions -- it's
wonderful to get together with those guys back from Korea,"
he said. "Being at this ceremony is more evidence that the
war is not going to be forgotten and that we're not going to
The trip to the Pentagon wasn't
Mount's first. He said he's come down from his home in
Frederick, Md., on several occasions to greet wounded
warriors when they come to visit the Pentagon.
makes me feel sad that people get shot up like that, but
it's good that they're living," Mount said. "In one skirmish
that we had in Korea, one of my friends, a sergeant, got
shot in the cheek and lost an eye. [He] spent 23 months in
VA hospitals getting his face rebuilt. But while he was in
the hospital he met a nurse and they got married, had
children and then grandchildren. So out of that bad a lot of
SAVED BY THE GOOD BOOK
L. Reel, 84, of Northfield, W.Va., the war went vastly
different than it had for Mount. Instead of being able to
retreat before thousands of Chinese troops poured across the
Yalu River, the young heavy weapons infantryman was captured
and made a prisoner of war.
Reel had joined the Army
after seeing Soldiers returning from World War II. He too
left school and in September 1947, signed up with a buddy
who was already a World War II veteran. He said he was
motivated from the start and wanted to "get them stripes
there," pointing to his left sleeve, which sported the
chevrons of a sergeant major.
In 1948, Reel found
himself in Korea for the first of what would end up being
two tours on the peninsula. He recalled the thick tension
there during his first tour.
"It was very interesting
because I had to stand guard duty on the 38th Parallel for
about six months -- it was just very scary thinking about it
all," he said.
After his first tour concluded, Reel
returned home to West Virginia. While there, he retrieved a
small pocket Bible with his name engraved on the cover. His
eighth grade teacher had given it to him. It would prove
important to him during his second tour.
during his second tour in country, Nov. 2, 1950, that Reel
and about 150 fellow Soldiers were captured. The Chinese
captors then turned the Americans over to the North Koreans.
"The morning that I was captured, the North Koreans took
me, two other G.I.s and three South Korean Soldiers and put
us in a barn and began searching us," he recalled. "They
jerked the dog tags off the two other G.I.s, but when they
got to me they didn't take mine -- I still have them.
"I pulled out my Bible, which had a little paper cross
and a picture of my fianc�e right where there was a
depiction of the Lord's Supper. The guard let me go to my
knees and gave my Bible back to me," he said. "I was able to
keep it the entire time and I carry it with me every time I
speak at schools and churches about my experiences in
During his time as a prisoner of war, Reel
and his fellow prisoners endured hard labor, lice, no
medical care, little food and various forms of torture.
"The worst torture I had with the Koreans [happened] one
morning while trying to get the fire started -- I did the
cooking for our little bit of the compound. I couldn't get
the green wood to burn. I decided I'd get old wood shingles
off the roof, but the guard caught me," Reel said. "He took
me out on the point of a hill and made me hold a 20-pound
rock over my head for 30 or 40 minutes at gunpoint."
The experience of that bitterly cold day left him with
permanently damaged hands.
Then Reel came down with
black pneumonia. With no medical treatment, Reel sweated it
out, lying on his cot for two weeks. But fate wasn't done
with him. Later, while loading barges, he stepped in a hole
which "mashed me to the ground." He's used a cane ever
Finally, after eight months, the North Koreans
turned the POWs back over to the Chinese, who could care for
them better. Reel said the Chinese tried to brainwash the
men by forcing them to study communist reading material.
Then, he said, he got "this mental block, and that's when I
began living day-to-day ... the good Lord kept me going."
On Aug. 24, 1953, the day U.N. forces unlocked the POW
camp gates, there wasn't any yelling or shouting. Nobody
said anything, said Reel, adding that the prisoners figured
they were going to be marched down to headquarters to pick
"When we got there they got us out on
this big field and then we figured something was coming off
because there were all these other prisoners from other
camps lining the river just sitting there all very quiet,"
he said. "Then they told us the war was over and marched us
back to our compounds where we stayed until it was our turn
"After we went through Freedom Village, they
put us in another compound there, deloused us, gave us good
hot showers, haircuts and an old pair of Army fatigues. It
was a wonderful walk across to freedom," he said, adding
that what he had really craved at the time was a banana
split -- but was told that would be too rich for his
"We lay in our bunks until the helicopter
came and took us to Seoul, then right out to the ship," said
Reel, who would remain in the Army until retiring in 1975.
"I got back on the same ship three years to the day that I
got off it.
By Army J.D. Leipold
Army News Service
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