‘Forgotten War’ remembered as veterans receive medals from South Korea
From left, Alphonse Maneux, of Laconia, a Marine, Bobby Goodwin, of Northwood, in the Airforce, Peter Martel, of Antrim, in the Navy, and Richard Gilbert, of Newmarket, in the Army, were several of the recipients of the Ambassador for Peace medal presented on Saturday July 20, 2013 in Concord. Hosted by the Korean American Society of New Hampshire, the Republic of Korea Consul General to Boston, Kangho Park, presented the medals to armed service veterans of the Korean War.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Richard Gilbert, of Newmarket, served in the Army for three years and was one of several recipients of the Ambassador for Peace medal presented on Saturday July 20, 2013 in Concord. Hosted by the Korean American Society of New Hampshire, the Republic of Korea Consul General to Boston, Kangho Park, presented the medals to armed service veterans of the Korean War.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
As he walked with his fellow veterans, celebrating the dedication of a memorial for the war they fought four decades prior, Robert Goldsack looked into the crowd and saw a simple sign with an overdue message.
Yesterday, the memory of that walk in Washington, D.C., at the unveiling of the Korean War Veterans Memorial brought tears to 81-year-old Goldsack’s eyes.
“Well, it proved that it wasn’t in vain,” he said.
Until then, he wasn’t so sure. Because those who fought in Korea hadn’t come marching home heroes, he said. Instead, they rarely talked of their battle wounds as their fight earned its label – The Forgotten War.
If the name has rung true for more than half a century, yesterday it seemed a poor fit as Goldsack and about 20 other Korean War vets from across the state were presented with the Ambassadors for Peace Medal by the South Korean government.
At a midday ceremony at the Grappone Center, the veterans walked one by one to the front of the room, where a gold medallion hanging on a bright ribbon was placed around their necks. Others in the audience wore their own medals proudly; they were some of the 70 New Hampshire residents who received the commendation at last year’s event organized by the Korean American Society of New Hampshire.
“Sixty years ago, Korean War veterans came to save Korea,” said Kangho Park, consul general of the Republic of Korea in Boston, who was in attendance yesterday. “And because of their sacrifice and their courage, Korea now has achieved . . . remarkable economic development and created a full-fledged democracy.”
Richard Zoerb, an 82-year-old veteran from Nashua who served in the Army, saw the return of his efforts firsthand in 2000 when he visited South Korea for the 50th anniversary of the conflict’s start. Seoul, which was devastated during the war, had turned into a modern metropolis, something he couldn’t have imagined during his time there. At a peace festival organized by the Korean government, Zoerb said he was treated like a king.
He doesn’t remember the same warm reception when he came back to the United States at the end of his service. His parents were happy to see him, he joked. But beyond that, “people hardly paid any attention,” he said.
None of the veterans said they carried any bitterness about that yesterday.
While some may argue their conflict wasn’t a war because neither side officially declared war against the other, those who fought in Korea know better.
“They call it a police action. But it was a war,” said 85-year-old Roland Allard of Manchester, an Army veteran.
Many said that they rarely talked of the war in the years afterward, moving on with marriage, jobs, children and then grandchildren, only beginning to take stock of their service later in life.
“The older you get, I think it tends to mean a little bit more because when you’re fresh back, it’s too new in your mind,” said 81-year-old Ray Lakeman of Gilford, who served in the Navy. “At that time, you just want to get on with life. But when you have a chance to sit back and think about it. Sixty years. It’s going to be 60 years the 27th of this month that the armistice was signed. It’s nice. . . . I think every one of the veterans in this room has the same feeling I do.”
Lakeman received his medal last year but was in attendance in part to support his friend Alphonse “Buster” Maheux, who was being honored yesterday. The men were friends at Laconia High School, then lived in neighboring towns after the war. Maheux led Lakeman’s sons’ Boy Scout troops, and the two always stayed in touch.
“Today is special for me because of a friend of mine in a wheelchair over there,” Lakeman said, pointing to Maheux’s table before turning to the side and holding back tears. “I saw him right after he got hit.”
Maheux received the Purple Heart for his service after his wife says he was “blown up in a foxhole” 18 months into his service.
He spent the rest of his three years being transferred from one hospital to another while he recovered.
Beverly Maheux said the ceremony was important to her family because her husband – like so many Korean War veterans – is quiet about his own achievements.
“He doesn’t talk about the war. His Purple Heart is put away. He hasn’t even looked at it in a hundred years,” she said. “He’s going to look at it now.”