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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Conflict in Korean? Police action? It was war

George Delorery, Korean War veteran, looks down at his medals that he received from the South Korean government recently.

George Delorery, Korean War veteran, looks down at his medals that he received from the South Korean government recently.

George Delorey’s eyes said more than the labels attached to the carnage in Korea during the 1950s.

A conflict? A police action?

Let’s stop the nonsense and identify truthfully what happened on that peninsula from 1950 to ’53: war.

The Korean War. No other terms fit.

“We got overrun one night at Heartbreak Ridge,” said Delorey, an 85-year-old Manchester resident. “But we survived it. The next morning we survived everything. I lost a lot of friends.”

That’s when Delorey’s eyes began misting under his wire-rimmed glasses, during last weekend’s ceremony honoring Korean War veterans. That’s when the impact of the Korean War came into focus.

Americans fought and died in Korea, more than 33,000 in just three years.

Conflict? Police action?

Hardly.

The program, held at the cavernous Army Aviation Support Facility, featured speeches from three-fourths of the state’s congressional delegation, plus Gov. Maggie Hassan.

We heard from Bill Reddel, adjutant general of the New Hampshire National Guard. We heard from the Korean consulate general, out of Boston, and a representative of the Korean War National Museum.

The speeches and music and respect were long overdue, inspired after Vietnam veterans were honored last year, at the same place. That occurred only after federal legislation had created a day of recognition.

But while Vietnam vets, long scorned for an unpopular war, have been recognized in recent years, Korean vets have continued to fall through the cracks, pushed into the shadows by world wars beforehand and post-Sept. 11 fighting afterward.

“Saturday’s event to welcome home the veterans from the Korean War is sort of a spin-off of the Vietnam veterans welcome home effort,” said Mike Horne, director of the State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen.

And while Horne mentioned that Korea is known as the Forgotten War, 83-year-old Dick Zoerb of Nashua, who’s retired from his family’s floral business, said history should open its eyes.

“It’s the Forgotten War to people, I guess, except for those of us who were over there,” Zoerb said. “When I came home, we weren’t received with bands particularly, nor were we spit on. We were kind of in between. It was just nice to get back to family and get married and produce some fine sons.”

George Naum, an 86-year-old former photojournalist, documented history in Korea with his camera at the start of the peace talks.

Asked if he’s felt slighted through the decades, he said, “Kind of, in a way. A lot of guys suffered a lot more than I did. I felt bad they didn’t make any more of us when they had a chance to. They should have.”

How could this be? At yesterday’s ceremony, colorful signs stood in a row, explaining with words, photos and graphics how bloody this war was, and the significance it played during the Cold War.

On June 25, 1950, 135,000 North Koreans crossed the border into South Korea. Soon, United Nations forces from Australia, Canada, Ethiopia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Turkey, England and others had joined the United States in the fight.

On Oct. 25, 1950, China entered the war, and a week later U.S. forces met the communist giant on the battlefield. World War III, President Harry Truman feared, was on the horizon.

Conflict, indeed.

Delorey remembers the global feel to the war. He fought alongside Ethiopian and Turkish soldiers. “Great fighters,” he said.

His is a great American story, about the boy from Winchester, Mass., who dropped out of grade school to work on his father’s farm and never finished high school.

He milked cows, cleaned chicken poop and delivered newspapers, saying one of his customers in the old neighborhood was Red Sox great Ted Williams. He returned to school to become a machinist.

And he fought in Korea, once ducking into a foxhole and smashing his knee during the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge. He still feels the pain today, in his mind and his knee.

“We were at the top of the hill protecting it,” Delorey said. “We had taken it back, we lost it, we got it back again. We kept it until the time I came home.”

Delorey is married, an affable man who greets you with warmth. He wore three medals last weekend, given to him by South Korea, one around his neck and two on the lapel of his sport jacket.

He said he was grateful for the attention, speeches and applause.

“It feels good, yes,” Delorey said. “I can’t say it’s long overdue; it’s been in the making for years, and they’ve come a long way and did a hell of a job for everyone they could. Some of us forgive, and some of us don’t forget. I’ve learned to be at peace with myself.”

Then Delorey’s eyes began telling his story again.

The story about a war.

“Thank you,” he said, “for taking the time to speak with me.”

No, George, thank you.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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