Korean War: The Forgotten War

A Korean War veteran from Iowa recounts his military service in South Korea. This program aired in 2003.


Morgan: The Korean War has been labeled the “forgotten war.” And when we realized that "Living in Iowa" had never produced a story about the Korean War, it drove home the truth about that designation. So in an effort to give credit where credit is due, we have invited Robert Gates to set the record straight. Robert fought in Korea in 1951 and '52 with the First Marine Division, battling in the east central mountains of Korea. Bob, welcome to "Living in Iowa."

Bob: Thank you.

Morgan: Why was it called the forgotten war?

Bob: People just…there was no fanfare after the war. And it was…a peace was established in 1953 at the 38th parallel, which was the dividing point of Korea before the war started. And when we came home, there was no fanfare and it was just forgotten.

Morgan: Well, since it was called the forgotten war, what would you like people to remember about it?

Bob: Well, that we had casualties like any other war and that we freed a people and they're free still today.

Morgan: What was your job in the war? And give us an idea of where you were and what sort of experiences you had.

Bob: Well, I was in an infantry company, HOW-37, First Marine Division. When I first got over there, I was 19 years old. I was a browning automatic rifleman. From there, we fought in the central mountains and hills of Korea. And our rotation was a year. I spent a year there. And, essentially, I was in the infantry the whole time.

Morgan: What were some of the big events of the war that you experienced?

Bob: Well, the biggest thing, of course, was combat. But the biggest thing to me, there was… I had a buddy that we were in the same company together. And we had went to high school together, joined the Marines together right out of high school, and he was killed on May 31 of 1951. And that was a tragedy.

Morgan: Yes. you were 18 when you enlisted and 19, you said, when you went to --

Bob: I was 19 when I went to Korea.

Morgan: What is a person that age thinking when all of a sudden they're faced with the reality of going to war?

Bob: Well, of course, when we enlisted, we took an oath to defend the country and the Constitution. And we went willingly. We were volunteers. But it was…we were scared. But once you get into battle, you're always scared. But when you have a job to do and when you get into that job, then that kind of fades away. And then after the battles are over, then you're kind of in a morbid state from casualties and the horrors of war.

Morgan: Yeah. What are the predominant images that you were left with from that war?

Bob: The carnage, the tragedies of losing buddies, and the carnage on the other side as well, the killing and the maiming.

Morgan: What do you think of all this coverage of this present war now?

Bob: I'm not too thrilled about it. I don't think that they should cover it like they do. I think it should have some coverage, but I think it has too much.

Morgan: Why is it too much?

Bob: It's too many—too many armchair generals that are giving their opinions, which they really shouldn't be able to do that because they really don't know what's going on. If you've never been in combat, it's a brotherhood, and nothing ever goes as expected.

Morgan: Do things come back to you… as you're watching this coverage?

Bob: Always.

Morgan: What kinds of things?

Bob: Just certain things of battle and mainly of losing friends and the people that you're trying to free. The carnage among them also, because there's always civilian tragedies, casualties. And it's not a pretty sight.

Morgan: And just to end up here, what are you feeling about the friction that now exists with North Korea?

Bob: It's a problem. They're a communist, Stalinist regime. And I'm afraid someday that we'll have to face that again.

Morgan: Well, anything else you'd like to tell us about --

Bob: Well, I just appreciate you inviting me so we could tell a little bit of our story about the Korean War, the forgotten war and so forth. And all the young people that have fought in wars, if they look back when they get to be older that they'll know that they made a little difference in freedom of somebody else's lives.

Morgan: Well, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it.

Bob: Thank you.

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