WASHINGTON, D.C. - With plans to participate in ceremonies on
July 27, 2013, marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean War
armistice agreement, a veteran who lost two limbs in the conflict
said he's proud of what thousands who fought there accomplished --
and what those who followed in their footsteps have preserved.
Retired Army Col. William Weber was a young lieutenant when he
arrived in Korea with the 187th Airborne Regiment Combat Team in
August 1950, joining U.S. Marines on the ground in the bloody Battle
Five months after his deployment, Weber was severely wounded --
first by a strike that claimed his arm shortly before midnight on
Feb. 15, 1951, and another attack several hours later that took his
leg. He was evacuated to an Army hospital in Tokyo to be stabilized
before his transfer to the Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle
Creek, Mich., one of three military facilities that specialized in
Now approaching his 88th birthday, Weber still
vividly recalls the frustration of prolonged ceasefire negotiations
that started shortly after he medically evacuated from Korea dragged
on for two years before the armistice was reached.
Retired Army Col. William Weber, 87, who lost an arm and leg
during the Korean War, said he's proud of what he and his fellow
Korean War veterans accomplished and what those who have served in
South Korean ever since have preserved. Courtesy images combined by
USA Patriotism! (August 14, 2013)
Half of the casualties of the war -- in which 36,574 U.S.
troops died and another 103,284 were wounded -- occurred as
the talks languished, Weber noted.
“It was a travesty
of common sense on the part of the communists,” he said.
“They are the ones who delayed it because of demands they
made and the hope that they could achieve politically what
they couldn't achieve militarily.”
Even today, 60 years after the
United Nations, North Korea and China signed the armistice
agreement, Weber expressed disappointment that the final
peace treaty that was to follow within 60 days never
That has left the two Koreas still
technically at war, and Weber expressed dismay over North
Korean leader Kim Jong Un's public nullification of the
armistice earlier this year.
Yet Weber is quick to
note the significance of what he called “a significant
benchmark of the 20th century.”
“It was a catalyst
that began the downfall of the attempt of communism to
dominate the world,” he said.
Weber, who served in
World War II as well as Korea, sees a common thread.
“I like to remind people that World War II saved the world
for democracy. Korea saved it from communism,” he said.
“That is where we drew a line in the sand as a free world,
and indicated that we would not allow armed aggression to
conquer a free people. And since that time, it never has.
The world took a stance and it worked.”
Yet like many
of his Korean War comrades, Weber said, he remains perplexed
that it remains known as “the Forgotten War.”
look at history books that teach children about American
history, it is a three-paragraph war,” he said. Most of
what's written focuses not on the war itself, but on the
controversy between then-President Harry S. Truman and Gen.
Douglas MacArthur, he noted. Truman fired MacArthur as
commander of U.N. military forces in South Korea in April
The United States was preoccupied during the
Korean War, Weber said, still reveling as troops home from
World War II went to school, re-entered the job market and
settled down to start families. “It was la-la land,” he
The last thing most Americans wanted at the
time was the distraction of another foreign war,
particularly one that initially started as a “police
action,” he said.
Yet that police action escalated.
At the height of the war, about a half-million U.S., United
Nations and South Korean forces found themselves arrayed
against 1.5 million Chinese and North Korean forces.
“Nowhere during World War II did American forces ever face
as many enemies in such a short frontage as in Korea,” Weber
said. “It was the bloodiest foreign war in terms of the
percentage of casualties we have ever fought.”
rattled off statistics to back up his claim: The chance of
those serving being killed or wounded during World War I was
1 in 22; during World War II, 1 in 12; in Vietnam, 1 in 17.
“If you went to Korea, you stood one chance in nine of
being killed or wounded,” he said. “American [service
members] died at the average rate of 1,000 a month and were
wounded at the rate of 3,000 a month for 36 continuous
months on a peninsula that was only 160 miles wide.”
To help honor that sacrifice, Weber served nine years on the
the presidentially appointed advisory board that led to the
dedication of the Korean War Veterans Memorial on
Washington's National Mall in 1995.
features 19 seven-foot-tall stainless steel soldiers on
patrol, the wind blowing their ponchos as they move across
But to Weber, who chairs the Korean
War Veterans Memorial Foundation, the memorial honors those
who served in Korea, but not who made the ultimate
sacrifice. He and many other Korean War veterans hope to one
day erect a glass remembrance wall that lists those who died
in the conflict.
“The American people have never been
told the cost of that freedom [won in Korea]. Well, it is
36,574 dead and 103,284 wounded in 36 months of continuous,
unbroken combat,” Weber said. “You won't find anything like
that anywhere in America's history of foreign wars.”
Visiting South Korea for the first time since the war in
2002, Weber said he has no doubt that the sacrifices have
“I saw firsthand the amazing things the
[South] Koreans have done with the freedom that we have
enabled them to have,” he said. “A population and a nation
that was decimated has become the 12th-largest economy in
Weber said he remains struck by the
gratitude the South Korean people continue to show for those
who came to their defense.
He noted, for example, the
ongoing Korea Revisit Program, paid for by the South Korean
government, which provides Korean War veterans free hotel
rooms, meals and tours of Korea.
unbelievable thing, the respect and admiration they have for
Americans and their U.N. counterparts because of what they
did to save their country,” he said.
With the average
Korean War veteran now 84 years old, and the population
declining by about 700 a day, Weber said, America's memory
of the Korean War is likely to fade as well.
after tomorrow's commemoration, expected to draw thousands
of the half-million living Korean veterans to the National
Mall, Weber is pragmatic about what will follow.
predict with certainty that right after the 27th of July,
the Korean War will fall back into the cracks of history
again,” he said.
What will keep it alive, he said, is
the legacy left by those who fought in the Korean War and of
the service of those who have continued to defend South
Korea during the past six decades.
Since the signing
of the armistice, North Korean attacks have killed 100 U.S.
and more than 450 South Korean troops.
U.S. forces continue to serve in South Korea, standing
shoulder-to-shoulder with their South Korean counterparts to
provide security on the peninsula.
“They are trip
wires,” Weber said. Even with the South Korean Army now
holding the demilitarized zone created by the armistice
agreement, “the Americans are there, so the North Koreans
know that if anything started, the United States would be
involved,” he said.
Together, they continue to
demonstrate the commitment Webber and his fellow Korean War
veterans made six decades ago, he said.
“You can take
a good, hard look at what Korea is today and realize that,
at one part of our history, we were responsible for that
happening. We saved a free people and kept them free and
gave them an opportunity to take advantage of their innate
ability to progress as a nation,” Weber said.
can't possibly look at the South Korea of today without
accepting the fact that what we did there was justified and
necessary,” he said. “So you tell me: Why is it an unknown
war in the id of American culture?”
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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