Korean War veteran from Ohio talks about return trip
SPENCERVILLE, Ohio — Jim Walthers, of Spencerville, downplayed his role after serving in the Army during the Korean War.
However, he is a reluctant hero to many, even the South Korean government.
In 2009, Walthers and his grandson, John Nichols, returned to South Korea as guests of the government for six days. The pair gave a brief recounting of their trip to members of the Lima Kiwanis Club during a meeting at Milano Cafe on Tuesday.
“The opportunity had been available since the 1990s,” Walthers said of the trip. “I didn’t know if I really wanted to go back to that place. After talking to my grandson, I finally decided to.”
Former Korean War veterans visit the country on the dime of the South Korean government, with the exception of getting there and back. The six-day tour went to many places, and Walthers defined it as a “tough trip.”
“I was just amazed at how grateful the people are,” Walthers said. “They are grateful for what we did. Even the little kids saluted when our bus went by. They are thankful for not being oppressed.”
Nichols gave a brief slide presentation with plenty of pictures from the trip. He said he felt the presentation was important because people tend to forget about it.
“It’s the forgotten war,” Nichols said, “and that’s a travesty. I think it is important for veterans like my grandfather to get the recognition.”
Walthers he said he was amazed to find a somewhat prosperous country that had completely changed since he had been there. When he left, the country had been completely desolated by the war.
“Here we are 60 years later, and they still remember,” Walthers said. “They have rebuilt.”
The tour included a visit to the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone. The blue building sits at the former location of a Korean village destroyed in the war and is is the only portion of the DMZ where South and North Korean forces stand face-to-face. It is often called the Truce Village. The JSA is used by the two Koreas for diplomatic engagements.
Nichols said the village literally sits right in the border between the two countries. If you were on one side of the room, you were in North Korea, on the other side of the room, you were in South Korea. An armed Republic of Korea soldier stands at attention at a door that opens into North Korea at all times.
“His one job is to make sure nobody goes through that door,” Nichols said.
During his time in Korea, Walthers said he officially was there to build bridges, but there wasn’t a lot of need.
“They didn’t need to0 many bridges,” Walthers said. “We spent a lot of time just transporting.”
The trip closed out with a ceremony where all of the visiting American and Turkish soldiers were awarded the Freedom Medal by a general of the South Korean Army.
Walthers said he was happy he ultimately decided to make the trip.
“I didn’t think I’d ever go back,” Walthers said, “but I am glad I did. It made me feel better knowing something come of it.