“Far Greater Than Anything Bestowed On Them in Their Native Land”
Excerpted from THE COLDEST WINTER by David Halberstam. Copyright © 2007 The Amateurs Ltd. Published by Hyperion. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold. Submitted by Prudencio E. Rumbaoa, “A” Company, 19th Regiment, Life Member 2234
“For the Americans and others who had fought there [Korea], who had more often than not felt the lack of recognition in their own country, and who had not particularly liked the country when they were there, the success of South Korea as a nation brought a sense of belated validation to their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of others who had not come home, and granted them a legitimacy and honor that they had not always felt.
“So many of them had for so long kept it inside themselves. No one wanted to hear about the war when they had first come home, and so they never talked about it, not to their families or to their oldest friends.
“Or when they did, no one understood—or, worse, wanted to understand. Their children more often than not would grow up knowing only that their fathers had served in the war, but almost nothing else—units they had been with and what battles they had fought in. They would complain about their father, that they were never willing to talk about the war.
“It was all bottled up. What they had done and why they had done it were still important to them—they were proud of having gone, and proud also of how well they had done under dreadful conditions. They mourned those who had not come back, but they shared it only with one another.
More than half a century later, this was still the defining experience in so many of their lives, and a number of them had become, in their own way, amateur historians. Late in life they wrote their own memoirs sometimes privately published or simply Xeroxed and stapled together, done often somewhat belatedly at the urging of their children and grandchildren.
“A surprising number them had, in effect, their own history rooms with small libraries devoted to the Korean War, and with large maps of the country showing selected battle areas pinned to the walls. But the rooms, like so many of the experiences and the memories, were effectively closed off to outsiders. No one, save the others who had gone, had offered the proper respect for what they had done and why they did it back when it had mattered. It was as if a critical part of the experience, the validity of it as judged and valued by others, had been stolen from them.
“They shared, then, this one great bond—that they could talk to one another and that those who have been there would always understand. They kept in touch by phone or by letter, and then in life by the magic of the Internet, a wonderful means of locating old buddies who had been lost in the shuffle of time. Their alumni associations were important, and they took their divisions and regimental newsletters seriously, as well as their annual conventions.
“Friendships were sustained, and sometimes new ones flowered between men who had been in adjoining units but had not known each other in Korea itself. At the reunions they gathered in small groups, often men who had been at a particular battle, summoning their past through the haze of half a century of memories.
“In the words of Dick Raybould, an artillery forward observer in the Ninth Regiment of the Second Division, ‘You go to the reunions and you find yourself trying to remember what you’ve spent the last fifty years trying to forget.’
“Gradually some of them began to go back to visit South Korea. At first it was something of a trickle, and then more of them went and came back and they talked about it, and they went on organized tours with other veterans. They visited places where they had fought during the Naktong battles and certain battlefields like Chipyongni. They did not visit the area around and above Kunuri and The Gauntlet, where the terrible defeat had first been inflicted on them, that was the other side of the parallel and could not be visited.
But they, many of whom had hated the country when they first served there, were impressed, first by the success of the country itself, its remarkable modernization, but also the sense of gratitude that they felt on the part of the local people—far greater than anything bestowed on them in their native land. (emphasis added)
“And they took pride in one additional thing that if it had not been a victory in the Classic sense, in some way what they had done had worked because it was the crossing of an existing border in the Cold War and because they had made their stand, it had not happened again.”
Mr. Rumbaoa says: “I found these statements very eloquent in expressing my innermost thoughts and (they) probably reflect the feelings of other veterans, who have served in the Korean War. I have been profoundly absorbed in reading the book.”
Prudencio E. Rumbaoa
21128 S. Menlo Ave.
Torrence, CA 90502-1725
The Taro Leaf, Vol 63(2) Spring 2009, pg.