Korean War veterans in Idaho reunite, remember
Lewiston Tribune, Idaho
LEWISTON, Idaho — They don't make many prisoners of war anymore. But even 60 years to the week since he set his boots back on American soil after 309 days in a Chinese POW camp, Ray Servatius is hard on himself.
"Being a POW doesn't make you a hero," the Clarkston man said. "It means you came in contact with the enemy and you came out second best."
The country he served gave Servatius a medal for surviving after getting shot down behind enemy lines, breaking a leg in the fall to Earth, enduring two months in a lice-infested hole with 10 other POWs and eight more months in a labor camp.
Servatius joined his fellow veterans of the 148th Field Artillery Battalion of the Idaho Army National Guard and their spouses for a reunion Monday night at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall in Lewiston. Retiree coordinator Boyd Pederson estimated only about a third of the 300-man battalion is still around, but 87 veterans and their families met Monday at the VFW Hall.
Pederson said the veterans came from all over, just like they did when they mobilized in 1951. And when their 21-month call-up was over, many returned to their hometowns scattered across northern Idaho.
Now living in Lewiston after growing up in Moscow, Pederson said he never planned on joining the service.
"My dad owned a service station in Moscow," he said. "I always figured that's where I'd end up."
With war mounting, an 18-year-old Pederson tried to beat the draft and got on the wait list for the U.S. Air Force. In the meantime, a National Guard recruiter got him to sign up. Pederson said he doesn't know if the recruiter knew the call-up was coming or not, but he and the rest of the 148th were mobilized before his name came up on the list.
"My mother thought he did," he said. "We had a running joke at that time — we beat the draft by a year."
On May 1, 1951, members of the 148th loaded their howitzers onto trains bound for training at Camp Carson, Colo. While they ate their first meal in a sandstorm because the camp wasn't ready for them, their time at Camp Carson allowed them to make a cameo in "One Minute to Zero," a war-torn romance starring Robert Mitchum.
The unit was an assortment of men of different ages and backgrounds. Some were combat veterans only a few years removed from World War II, others were fresh out of high school. Training ended on June 30, 1951, and unlike other National Guard units, the 148th dispersed as individuals to where their particular skills were needed to help with the war effort.
Pederson, who ended up in an air defense unit protecting the then-classified B-52 bomber, said the array of useful skills is a hallmark of National Guard units.
"That's what makes the National Guard great is its diversity," he said. "People that can do almost anything."
While many went directly to Korea, the rest were spread to military bases in the U.S., Germany, Italy, France, Panama and elsewhere around the world.
After the armistice was signed in July 1953, many returned to their lives back in northern Idaho. But, while he started just wanting "to get in and get out," Pederson found a career in the National Guard. He retired in 1992 as the country's ranking command sergeant major and Idaho's first soldier to achieve the Army's highest enlisted rank — 41 years after signing up.
"I stayed until they kicked me out," he said, laughing. "I wasn't the oldest, I'd just been there the longest."
Still involved two decades into retirement, an 81-year-old Pederson headed the effort to get the 148th back together Monday night at the VFW Hall. Above the podium in front of rows of folding tables and chairs, two words below the battalion's crest summed up the service of this group of Idaho veterans.