Korean War veterans meet
Ron Gower/TIMES NEWS Bill Newton, left, and Randolph Rabenold, both of Lehighton, share their experiences from serving in Korea during the Korean War. The war began 60 years ago. Rabenold, a Marine, was with the first group of American soldiers to land in Korea in 1950. Newton fought in both World War II and Korea.
Dick Semmel has no doubt that the Korean War was worth fighting 60 years ago.
"What the United Nations did in Korea helped preserve Democracy in Asia," said the Lehighton native who now resides in Fairborn, Ohio, a Dayton suburb.
Semmel was one of 28 Korean War veterans who gathered last weekend in the Lehighton American Legion in observance of the 60th anniversary of the war.
They are members of the Korean War Last Man's Club of the Legion and staged their 44th annual banquet.
Robert D. Berger Jr., president of the club, said the club originally had 168 members. Berger, 81, said 78 club members are deceased.
Saturday's attendance was the lowest since the club formed. For the first time the meeting was held in the afternoon instead of the evening because, said Berger, the members "are getting older."
He said the club always meets the Saturday closest to the anniversary date of the war's beginning.
Semmel, who served in Korea in 1952-53 and also did two tours in Vietnam, served in both the Army and Air Force. The retired military and civil service employee said when he first was in Seoul during the war, the streets were mud and the city was in ruins.
"I went back in 1978 and I couldn't believe I saw the same country," he said. "I went through Seoul. It was devastated (during the war) and now it is a vibrant city. South Korea is a tiger in Asia."
He added, "Through American support and help and their own ingenuity, it became a vibrant democracy."
Semmel continued, "One thing that stands up in my mind is that during the Korean War, the South Korea military was mediocre at best. I was with the South Korean Army in Vietnam and they were very disciplined, hard working, hard fighting, and very pro-Western. I think South Korea is a great country. I was very impressed."
"What the United Nations did in Korea helped preserve democracy in Asia," he said.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950 when North Korea, backed by China, invaded South Korea. The United Nations came to the aid of South Korea.
Berger said today the Korean War is called "The Forgotten War" because "it was never resolved. It was never terminated."
The conflict ended with an armistice signed on July 27, 1953 that restored the border between the Koreas near to the 38th Parallel and created the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a 2.5-mile wide buffer zone between the two Koreas.
Randolph Rabenold of Lehighton was with the first American unit to arrive in Korea in 1950. A marine, Rabenold said North Korea came close to taking over the country. His unit landed at Pusan, which was in the southern-most area of Korea. He said gunfire could be heard as the Americans landed on Korean soil.
Rabenold said his father's death might have save his life. He was summoned home for his father's funeral while his unit was dispatched to the Choson Reservoir in November 1950. There U.N. forces were surrounded by about 60,000 Chinese troops. Sixty members of Rabenold's unit were killed while entrapped there. Rabenold was scheduled to go to Choson as part of a rescue effort when he returned to Korea, but the American forces had managed to fight its way free.
"Pop probably saved my life," he said.
He said of the Korean War, "Looking back, I feel it was a worthy effort."
The biggest disappointment, said Rabenold, was when Korean veterans returned home they got no heroes welcome like World War II returning veterans had received.
William "Bill" Newton of Lehighton served in both World War II and Korea. He was in th 40th Infantry Division of the Army in Korea. He had left the military, then was drafted eight days later.
He was sent to Korea in 1952.
"The country wasn't mobilized behind the Korean War like it was during World War II," he said, indicating one reason why the armistice was signed instead of settling the dispute once and for all.
Semmel said there were major differences even between the Korean and Vietnam wars.
"Vietnam - it was run out of the White House," he remarked. He recalled that while he was there, he spoke with a pilot who spotted a train filled with missiles for the enemy. "He wanted to blow it up, but was told he couldn't do it," Semmel said.
Berger said he is concerned that because the Korean War never ended, that it could re-ignite.
James Wentz of Lehighton said, "We hope we accomplished something with what went on 60 years ago."
Wentz, the chaplain of the Last Man's Club, gave the invocation and prayed for "The young people who are serving now, in Afghanistan and Iraq, just as we served."
The most vivid memory Wentz has of Korea is losing a high school friend, Bobby Kipp. He said the two had played football together at Lehighton High School.
Of Kipp, Wentz said, "He never had a chance to raise a family that I was fortunate to do."