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Korean War veterans remembered 60 years after ‘forgotten’ war

Korean War veteran Bill Fitzgerald 83 OrlPark salutes as national anthem plays during commemoraticeremony OrlPark Veterans Memorial Sunday May 27

Korean War veteran Bill Fitzgerald, 83, of Orland Park, salutes as the national anthem plays during a commemoration ceremony at the Orland Park Veterans Memorial Sunday, May 27, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 28, 2012 6:57AM

Some have called it “forgotten.” Others refer to it as “unknown.”

But ask any veteran about the Korean War, and they’ll tell you it’s nothing of the sort. They’re intimately familiar with both the unbreakable bonds of brotherhood formed and the tragic sacrifices made during the war. They haven’t forgotten a thing because, from 1950 to 1953, the Korean War was their only reality.

“I was a draftee,” said Anthony Vince, of Chicago, a combat engineer in the Army during the Korean War. “They put you over there, and you fought for your life and the guys you were with. It’s as simple as that. You weren’t worried about what they were thinking at home; you were worried about when your next meal was coming and freezing your ass off.”

That the war still is at front-and-center in the hearts and minds of those who fought in it was written on the faces of Korean War veterans like Vince, who were honored on Sunday during a commemoration ceremony in Orland Park.

Hundreds gathered outside at the village’s Veterans Memorial for the first part of the ceremony, which began with a presentation of colors, a rendition of the National Anthem performed by the 85th Army Band from Arlington Heights and a reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.

After an invocation by the Rev. Walt Ledogar and a welcome from Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin, representatives from the Department of Defense, the Republic of Korea and the Korean War Veterans Association laid wreaths in honor of Korean War veterans.

The ceremony then moved inside the Orland Park Civic Center for refreshments and Korean-themed entertainment. A short video expressing gratitude from the people of Korea was shown before Korean War veterans and their families were presented with certificates.

“The word ‘hero’ is tossed around quite cavalierly these days,” Col. David J. Clark, executive director of the Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee, said during the indoor ceremony.

“We have sports heroes, Hollywood heroes, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that. But with our American veterans, both past and present, we have authentic, laid-it-on-the-line heroes — men and women who risked that most precious gift for their fellow human beings.”

For some veterans, the recognition was a long time coming.

Vince said that much like the Korean War itself, the veterans who served in it have been overlooked for far too long.

“They forgot us,” he said. “It’s called the forgotten war for a reason. It ain’t gonna change. It’s 60 years old, man. I kind of resent it, but I do appreciate (the Orland Park ceremony).”

George Fortier, of Burbank, who was a private in the Army stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri during the war, said he’s always taken issue with people referring to the Korean War as a “conflict.”

“The Korean War was one of the bloodiest wars,” he said. “I’m glad it’s been finally recognized as a war. For a long time, it was called a ‘conflict,’ but over 30,000 men lost their lives. How could that possibly be just a conflict?”

Timothy Cash, an Orland Park resident who was a corporal in the Marines during the war, said he once struck a man for calling the Korean War a “police action” instead of a war.

“He said, ‘Where’ve you been, Tim?’ And I said, ‘I was in Korea.’ He said, ‘Korea?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, in the Korean War.’ He said, ‘Oh yeah, Truman said you were a policeman in a police action.’ So, being the cool-tempered guy that I am, I popped him in the puss and walked out.”

Cash said that for many years afterward, Korean War veterans took a back seat to veterans of other wars.

“They signed the truce in June of ’53, and that’s when we went home,” he said. “So from June of ’53 to now, people have acted like we don’t exist. The forgotten war, they called it, but more guys died in Korea in three years then in Vietnam in 10 years.”

Ultimately, though, Cash said he chooses to remember the positive aspects of the war.

“I don’t remember a lot of the disaster and other things that went on,” he said. “I remember the good things. When I think about Korea, I think about the Korean people. They were hard-working, nice people. Kind, courteous; a politeness you just don’t see. They were the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life.”

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