Remembering a forgotten war

Photos by Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Korean War veteran Edgar Seitz of Jasper, 83, was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1952. He went to basic training, sending him away from home for the first time, and then was sent to the Korean War where his duty was driving a supply truck for 14 months. The 60th anniversary of the signing of the war’s cease-fire agreement will be observed in Washington, D.C., Saturday.

Herald Staff Writer

It’s a war that has been largely forgotten.

Except by those who fought in it.

In 1952, Edgar Seitz was drafted by the Army. He was 22 years old and worked on the family farm near Haysville.

When he was shipped off to basic training, it was his first time away from home. A few months later, he was stationed half a world away, on the frontline of the Korean War, near the Yellow River.

He drove a supply truck during the day and stood guard on a hill at night with a machine gun. For Seitz, now 83, his time overseas doesn’t seem that distant. But when he reminisces about the war, most people give him a blank stare.

“They don’t recognize it that much,” said Seitz, who lost his right hand in a corn picker mishap, just 13 days after coming home from Korea. “You try to tell somebody about the 38th parallel or the Yellow River ... nobody knows. Never heard of it.”

Saturday marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of an armistice agreement, but the war never really ended. The cease-fire was more of a truce than a peace treaty.

It’s unclear how many Dubois County residents fought in the war. Bob Johnson of the Dubois County Veterans Service Office said his agency doesn’t have reliable figures on how many local veterans served in Korea.

Thousands of U.S. troops remain stationed along the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea, in what often is described as the most heavily fortified border in the world.

North Korea, with its nuclear ambitions and threatening antics, always seems to be in the news. So why has Korea become the forgotten war?

Part of the blame lies with the public education system. At many schools, the history curriculum is heavy on World I, World War II and Vietnam. But Korea is given short shrift because it’s considered less historically significant.

Unlike other wars, it didn’t come to a dramatic conclusion, said Sally Hastings, a history professor at Purdue University who teaches a class on East Asian conflicts.

Vietnam ended with the fall of Saigon, where the last Americans where whisked away by helicopter from the roof of the U.S. embassy. In World War II, Japan surrendered after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The end of the Korean War seems anti-climatic by comparison.

Joe Wagner of Jasper, 84, didn’t see the front lines of the Korean War. Rather, he was stationed at a U.S. Navy hospital in Yokosuka, Japan, where he provided physical therapy to those who were injured in Korea.

The war also has faded from memory because it has been ignored by Hollywood. While Vietnam and World War II have served as the backdrop for countless films and TV shows, the Korean War, for whatever reason, hasn’t become part of popular culture the way other conflicts have, with “MASH” being the notable exception.

“What literary works or movies or TV series do we have about the Korean War?” Hastings said.
“”˜MASH’ is it.”

She said the war is worth remembering because it offers an important civics lesson. The war’s pivotal moment came in 1951, when President Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur for insubordination.

The two clashed over foreign policy. MacArthur wanted to expand the war and invade China; Truman wanted to negotiate with the enemy.

It was an epic power struggle pitting a heavy-handed general against the executive branch — and the general lost.

This was important because “it absolutely asserted the authority of the civilian government over the military,” Hastings said.

But the war’s significance stretches beyond civics lessons. More than 36,000 U.S. troops were killed in Korea. Thousands more were injured, including Sylvester Nord, a Marine from Spencer County who now lives in Ferdinand.

In 1951, while digging a foxhole on the side of a hill, Nord was struck by shrapnel from a grenade.
The blast caused permanent nerve damage to his right hand, forcing him to eat and write with his left. A long, jagged scar snakes along his forearm, but it could’ve been worse.

“I was lucky,” he said. “It wasn’t my time, I guess.”

Six decades later, the war’s significance still is debated. Asked whether that bothered him, Nord, 86, just shrugged.

“I’m not the kind to worry about stuff like that,” he said. “I feel like I did what I had to do — did what little bit I could do — and that’s it.”

But others find it troubling that the Korean War remains largely forgotten. Joe Wagner of Jasper, 84, worked as a physical therapist in a naval hospital in Japan during the war. He never saw combat but treated plenty of troops who had.

“It still bothers me that they don’t get the recognition that maybe some of the World War I and World War II veterans received,” Wagner said.

“Everybody that goes overseas suffers.”


Facts about the Korean War

Ӣ After World War II, Korea was splintered along ideological lines, with the U.S. occupying the south and the Soviet Union occupying the north.

Ӣ Fighting broke out June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea.

Ӣ The United Nations got involved to maintain law and order. Under international agreement, Korea was supposed to be separated.

”¢ South Korea was backed by U.N. forces, largely from the U.S. North Korea’s allies included the Soviet Union and China.

Ӣ Nearly 1.8 million U.S. troops served in the Korean War; 36, 574 were killed.

Ӣ A cease-fire agreement was signed July 27, 1953.

Ӣ About 28,500 U.S. troops still are stationed along the Demilitarized Zone line.

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