Monday, April 19, 2010

Remembering the Korean War

The Korean War is often called the Forgotten War.
Taking place between World War II and the Vietnam War, the Korean War ended with a whimper in July 1953 when North Korea and South Korea signed a truce that officially divided the peninsula. That line of demarcation, known as the Demilitarized Zone or DMZ, still separates the two countries to this day.
The Korean War lasted from June 25, 1950, until July 27, 1953, according to Wikipedia. In the United States, the war was officially described as a “police action” because there was never a declaration of war by Congress.
Time magazine chose the American Fighting-Man as its Person of the Year in 1950.
My father, James A. Seitz, served for more than a year in the U.S. Army in the Korean War.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he worked two years at his father’s pharmacy in Menomonie, Wis., until he was drafted.
He was engaged to my mother, Alice L. Kelly, when he was sent to Korea in February 1953. He returned in April 1954.

Part 1: Reporting for duty

James A. Seitz discusses the Korean War:

When I was in college as an undergraduate, they had a program that would prepare you to get a commission if you completed it all – the ROTC program. I took the course and during the summer I went to camp.
So when I graduated I was unofficially an officer. I wasn’t an officer yet because I hadn’t been called into service, but I had all the qualifications for it. I’d go in as a second lieutenant.
Not too long after I graduated lo and behold I get a notice from Selective Service to take the physical.
So a busload of us went for a physical. And I looked around on the bus and most of those guys had been there before. You could tell by the way they were talking about it. Many of them had taken the physical and had failed. They were grumbling, “What am I doing here? I already had one.”
So I went up to the Twin Cities in a bus from Menomonie. We drove up to St. Paul in the morning and came back in the afternoon.
Within a week, I got a letter that said I’d passed.
So I got on the phone and called the Army and said, “Well, listen, I’m going to be drafted. I might just as well go into the service as an officer. So could I get called in?” And the man said, “Oh, heavens, we’d be glad to have you. Come down to Milwaukee and have your physical.”
So I went down to Milwaukee and had the physical and quite frankly I was a little edgy because I thought, “I’ve got to pass this one.” I took the physical and the doctor said, “Well, your blood pressure is up a little bit. We can’t take you.”
And I said, “Well, my gosh, I took the physical for the service and they passed me and now you’re telling me I don’t pass?”
And he said, “Well, maybe we should give you some additional tests. Can you stay overnight? We’ll test you again tomorrow.”
So I stayed overnight and they took my blood pressure two or three times and he finally said, “Well, you pass.”
Within a couple of weeks I was shipped out. It was pretty fast.
They sent me down to San Antonio, Texas, for two weeks to familiarize us … All of the guys who went down there were fellas who were in the same category I was. Some of them were dentists, some were doctors and all that.
They gave us some lectures. We went out in the field for some overnights and things like that.
From there, I was sent up to a camp near Boston.
I reported there and they said, “You’ll be here two months and then you’ll be sent overseas.”
I was in Boston for two months then I went home, was there for a few days, and then took the train to Washington state. And then I got on a plane and flew up to Alaska. We flew to one of the islands just off of Alaska for fuel. Then we flew to Japan. In Japan, I stayed there a week.
Then I got on a boat from Japan to Korea.
I stayed for about a week in Seoul, Korea … and finally went to a colonel there.
There were two of us and he says to the young guy, “I’m sending you to such-and-such unit.” And he said, “Oh, great, I’ve got some friends there.” And the colonel said, “Oh. I changed my mind.” (Laughter.)
A couple of days later they put me in a jeep and we drove all the way up to the frontlines.

Next: Near the frontlines

Photos (top to bottom):
Time magazine’s Man of the Year for 1950: the American G.I.;
James A. Seitz outside a U.S. Army tent in Korea, 1953;
U.S. Army camp in Korea, 1953 (Photo by James A. Seitz);
Helicopter pad at U.S. base in Korea, 1953 (Photo by James A. Seitz)

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