At 60th anniversary of cease-fire, veterans of Korean War reflect on conflict

Illinois Veterans Home resident John Joseph Karlichek, a Korean War veteran, reflects quietly Saturday at the Vets Home’s Korean War Memorial during the 60th anniversary service. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Jul. 27, 2013 8:46 pm Updated: Aug. 11, 2013 1:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The echo from the rifles of the three-volley salute started to dissipate at the Illinois Veterans Home Saturday when Korean War veteran Bob Ericson lifted his bugle to his lips and began playing taps.

Sixty years earlier in Panmunjom, Korea, Ericson, then a U.S. Marine sergeant and the 1st Service Battalion bugler in the 1st Marine Division, played taps at 10 p.m. at the United Nations Truce Camp, just 15 minutes after the firing stopped.

Ericson's playing of taps Saturday were part of the memorial service commemorating 60 years since the cease-fire that ended the fighting in the Korean War.

Living at the Veterans Home, the Quincy resident recalls that the shelling right before the cease-fire was so intense that after dark, soldiers could read a newspaper from all the flashes.

"At 2145 (9:45 p.m.), it was like someone threw a switch," Ericson said. "There had been a 12-hour artillery barrage -- all day long as fast as they could shoot. At 9:45, they all stopped. It was scary. You could hear a pin drop.

"We were all holding our breaths. We couldn't believe it was ending. We all thought that somebody was going to take a shot, but they didn't."

Saturday's commemoration was hosted by the Lester Hammond Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association. The late Lester Hammond Jr., for whom the chapter is named, is the lone area recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Hammond, an Army corporal, sacrificed his own life to save the remaining members of his patrol as they were being overrun by hundreds of Chinese Communists at a remote site in North Korean in August 1952. He was recognized in a special ceremony Saturday at the Vets Home Sunset Cemetery.

Robert Elledge was a private first class with the Army's 7th Division, 31st Infantry Regiment, when he was in Korea. He took shrapnel in his head and neck during a battle in May 1951 and was back home by the time the cease-fire started.

Elledge remembers that he suffered frostbite on his hands and feet from the frigid temperatures in Korea. He said burning villages provided some warmth at times.

"As you were facing them, you were burning up and your back would be freezing," he said. "You had to keep turning in circles to keep warm. I was kind of gung-ho when I went over there, but I wasn't there 30 minutes and I wanted to come home"

Elledge was raised in Quincy and splits his time between the city in the summer and California in the winter.

"When I came back, people didn't even know there was a war going on," Elledge said of his experience returning from "the Forgotten War."

Of the 22 soldiers from Adams County killed in action in Korea, Elledge knew five of them.

"There's five of them that I ran around with when I was younger," he said.

The names of the 22 servicemen were read during Saturday's service by Korean War veteran Dale Haprin. More than 36,000 Americans were killed in the Korean War.

"To those families, the war has never ended, and it never has," Ericson said. "There's been no cease-fire that is permanent. It's been a temporary cease-fire. It actually started out as a 90-day cease-fire, and it just continues."

Services commemorating the cease-fire also were held across the nation Saturday.

President Barack Obama said in a speech at the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall that American veterans deserved a better homecoming from a war-weary nation and that their legacy is the 50 million people who live freely in a democratic South Korea.

"Here in America, no war should ever be forgotten, and no veteran should ever be overlooked," he said.

Obama said the conflict didn't unite the country like World War II did or divide the country the same way the Vietnam War would. U.S. veterans came home to neither parades nor protests, the president said, because "there was, it seemed, a desire to forget, to move on" by Americans tired of battle.

But they "deserved better," Obama said, adding that, on the 60th anniversary, "perhaps the highest tribute we can offer our veterans of Korea is to do what should have been done the day you came home."

He appealed for people to pause and let the veterans "carry us back to the days of their youth and let us be awed by their shining deeds."

In the audience of several thousand were dozens of American and Korean veterans of the war. Obama asked them to stand and be recognized.

The 1950-53 war had North Korean and Chinese troops on one side against U.S.-led United Nations and South Korean forces. It ended on July 27, 1953, 60 years ago Saturday, with the signing of an armistice.

A formal peace treaty was never signed, leaving the Korean Peninsula in a technical state of war and divided at the 38th parallel between its communist north and democratic south. The U.S. still has 28,500 troops based in the south.

Yet the costs of the war continue to mount even amid relative peace.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.