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Hillsborough native Henry Cote, who fought in the Korean War, posthumously receives thanks from our ally

  • Paul Cote stands with his hand over his heart during the national anthem, flanked by his mother, Thelma Cote (left), and his aunt, Lorie Hartofelis. Ray Duckler / Monitor file

  • Paul Cote and others stand in tribute at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen, where Paul’s father, Henry Cote, was honored Friday by South Korea for his service during the Korean War. Ray Duckler—Monitor file

Monitor columnist
Published: 8/1/2021 4:00:10 PM

Last Tuesday marked 68  years since the armistice was signed, essentially (but not officially) ending the Korean War.

The Forgotten War, many call it.

Far bloodier than Vietnam, with a higher kill rate, the conflict unfairly sits in the background of history, an injustice seven decades old.

Vietnam vets returning home after the war in 1973 were scorned. Korean vets, back home in ’53, were ignored. Bravery, brotherhood and sacrifice had lost their oomph after World War II.

The process to mend wounds and show appreciation continues. South Korea gave a big thank you to the late Henry Cote on Friday at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen. His son, Paul Cote, who recently retired as a corrections officer at the State Prison, sat upfront with his mother, Henry’s wife, Thelma Cote.

“Memorials (are) suggesting that the Korean War is the Forgotten War,” Ki-jun You, the Boston-based Consul General of the Republic of Korea, told about  150 in attendance. “With all due respect, as far as New Hampshire is concerned, we will always feel an abiding sense of profound gratitude to the people of New Hampshire, who did not hesitate to come to help us during the Korean War.”

More than 28,000 Granite Staters fought in the war; 135 were killed.

The ceremony occurred in front of a shiny black monument. The one honoring Americans who died in a war that lasted three years, from 1950 to ’53. More than 35,000 died. More than 100,000 were wounded. More than 8,000 are missing.

The tribute displays the ever-familiar Korean peninsular, with its hair-trigger boundary – alive and well all these years later – separating the communist North from our allies in the South. 

Henry Cote, a Hillsborough native who died in 2014 at the age of 84, was the star Friday. The lone Korean War veteran cited this time around, by a consulate that gathers nominations and then checks facts.

Henry’s wife, Thelma, said by phone the next day, “I’m lost for words. I’m thrilled by this recognition, and I wish he was still here with me.”

Information is sent sporadically to South Korean consulate in the United States. They work for their homeland. They find Korean War veterans and honor them.

Recognition falls through the cracks now and then. In this case, Sun Woo Park, a representative of the  Korean American Society of New Hampshire, said his organization had recognized Henry at least six years ago, around the time of his death.

Paul Cote, though, recalls no such honor surfacing back then. He said he alerted the proper authorities about his father’s past in 2019. Then the pandemic hit.

“We lost touch and put it on the back burner,” said Paul.

“I reached out to the Consulate General in Boston,” he continued, “and after it goes through formal committees, we’re thinking of maybe next year. But I got it to them that day and they approved it the next day.”

Then he added, “This is a great, great honor.”

Henry, a Hillsboro-Deering High School graduate, was an electrical engineer who raised two children and was married to Thelma for 58 years. He worked in the defense industry and in the private sector.

He created programs for engineering students and was one of the founding members of the state’s Solar Energy Association.

Henry loved fishing. Paul favored baseball. “We went fishing together,” Paul said. “He tried to expose me to what he grew up with in Hillsborough. He knew enough about baseball to throw me a ball.”

Paul said his father had a curious mind. During a vacation to Disney World, Paul, his sister and his mother allowed the futuristic exhibit Epcot to sweep them away, to another place.

Not Henry.

“He loved projects and figuring things out,” Paul said. “When he went on the ride, he’d try to figure out how that worked, or how did they make that character appear? He  was always thinking of what is behind the curtain.”

He joined the Army Air Corps and was in charge of communications in Korea, relaying messages to ships in the bay below.

“A conduit,” Paul called him.

Once during the war, Paul said, Henry was ordered to bring supplies somewhere. He was stopped at a checkpoint by a giant military policeman, who screamed expletives and told him to turn his truck around.

Henry showed the MP his orders. The MP said, “The North Koreans are coming; turn your ass around.”

Another time, Henry got frostbite on his foot. Relatively speaking, though, he was lucky. He made it home. He lost friends, some of whom have never been found.

Henry was buried in the Veterans Cemetery seven years ago. Paul purchased an honorary stone. Henry’s name is forever parked out front of the monument that shows one of the world’s most dangerous borders. Technically, we're still at war with North Korea. And unfortunately, we still don’t like each other.

But the alliance with the South remains strong. As does their gratitude. A South Korean contingent took photos Friday. The Contoocook VFW Color Guard marched, wearing crisp white shirts and carrying rifles.

Paul and Thelma sat together, in the front row. Paul served in the first Gulf War, in 1991. He got an education, too, and told me, “I finished college for mom and I did the Army thing for dad. I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”

Speakers Friday included Warren Perry, the state’s Deputy Adjutant General, and Col. Eric Hogancamp, the NH Army National Guard’s chief of staff.

Gov. Chris Sununu and Sen. Maggie Hassan were not in attendance, but they sent representatives to read statements.

All words, spoken from behind a lectern, under tall trees in the area that honors our war dead, were directed at the Cote family and the man himself.

“A huge thank you,” You told the audience. “A deep thank you from the heart.”


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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