60 years later, they remember the 'forgotten war' in Korea

By EDWARD COLIMORE | The Philadelphia Inquirer | Published: September 19, 2013

PHILADELPHIA — The war was largely ignored by the news media and rarely the subject of Hollywood films.

It unfolded on the other side of the world before TV newscasts brought daily images of death and destruction to living rooms, as they would during the Vietnam conflict.

But the so-called forgotten war in Korea — which ended 60 years ago — remains fresh in the minds of Ronald Evans Sr., Stanley Levin, Clarence Davis, and others who survived the ordeal.

Their service will be remembered and certificates of appreciation awarded to them and about 20 other Korean War veterans during a ceremony at 6 p.m. Sept. 25 in Civic Hall of the Connector Building at Camden County College's Blackwood Campus in Gloucester Township.

"Everybody's life was at risk," said Evans of Camden. "You felt some type of fear every day."

"My memories are very vivid," added Levin of Maple Shade. "I saw a lot of wounded."

"I still think about it," said Davis of Cherry Hill. "I have to live with it."

The college event will be followed at 7 p.m. by the first of five lectures, "The Korean War and Its Legacies" presented by Frank Plantan, codirector of the University of Pennsylvania's International Relations Program. Other talks are scheduled at 7 p.m. on Oct. 9, 16, and 30, and Nov. 7.

The Korean War "was absolutely the forgotten war," said Jack Pesda, a history professor at Camden County College and director of the college's Center for Civic Leadership and Responsibility. "It's really the first hot war in the Cold War — and set the pattern for the next 50 years.

"Since this is the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, I thought a grateful nation should honor these brave men who fought for our freedom at the height of the Cold War," he said.

One of the Army's draftees was Davis, 83, who was deployed to Korea in 1952. The war was fought from 1950 to 1953.

"I was on the front line the whole time," he said. "The first time I got shelled, I thought: 'Oh good. I want some action.' It was like John Wayne. It didn't bother me."

But in that first shelling, a supply sergeant was killed and the life-and-death seriousness of war became more real.

The following month Davis and another soldier were stringing barbed wire in Kumwha Valley when an enemy shell struck a nearby artillery piece, wounding his comrade and several other soldiers.

"The only guy left standing was me," he said.

The war "has bothered me more in later years."

Memories of it came flooding back three months ago when his son took him to the Korean War Memorial in Washington. "I cried the whole time I was there," said Davis, a retired teacher who dons his Army sergeant's uniform when he speaks about his service at area schools.

"I'm like the Battleship New Jersey," he said. "I'm an antique."

The war pushed many soldiers to their limit, said Evans, a sergeant who received the Army Commendation Medal.

"When you are in war, everybody wants to survive," he said. "War forces people to do things they would never consider doing.

"You had to keep going and do what was necessary to survive," said Evans, 81, who retired as assistant district director of the Philadelphia office of federal contract compliance in the U.S. Department of Labor. "I always felt we would make it home."

An African American like Davis, Evans said the war showed the military that minorities had leadership skills and abilities. "That was one of the positive things about it," he said.

Some soldiers never fired a shot and were never targeted by enemy fire — but still recall the war with great clarity.

"What stands out most was the weather — the incredible cold," said Levin, 81. "It would get down to 40 degrees below zero."

In the spring and summer, "there was the heat and dryness — and the smell of human excrement used as fertilizer on the rice paddies," he said. "The smell stayed in your nostrils."

The sight of the wounded also stayed with him. "It was eye-opening," said Levin. "When you are there, you're an individual.

"You don't know what you are facing beyond your own personal spot," he said. "I was one of many who were drafted and serving their country."

Levin, a retired corporate executive for a women's apparel manufacturer, didn't think much about the war until the 9/11 attacks. "That's when my memory bank was quite activated," he said.

Like Davis and Evans, the veteran speaks to students at schools about his war experience.

"It keeps us going and brings back more memories," said Davis, who looks forward to the college event honoring the veterans. "There's no question that we feel more appreciated."

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