published Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Kennedy: Korea was the original cold war

On Monday, I took my car in for service and got a ride to work in the dealership's shuttle van.

The driver of the van was an older gentleman. He sipped coffee from a Styrofoam cup and fiddled with the radio while I checked email on my iPhone.

After a few minutes, we began to make small talk about the weather. On this particular morning, a thundershower seemed to be missing his house and hitting mine.

"Reckon we're ever going to get any government accountability," he said, changing the subject abruptly.

He said he'd heard a report that federal funds meant for job training had been wasted on entertainment, and some had gone to enrich teachers unions.

"Hadn't heard about that," I said.

In the course of conversation, he mentioned that he is a veteran. I sized him up as too old for Vietnam and not old enough for World War II.

"Korea?" I said.

"Yes," he said. "I had the honor to serve under Gen. (Douglas) MacArthur for a short time."

"My dad fought in Korea," I said. "He was a master sergeant."

My thoughts spun back to my deceased father, who rarely spoke of his military service. Occasionally, though, he would mention that he had never been as cold as he was in Korea, the so-called "forgotten war," where he slept on the ground every night for a year.

I asked the van driver if he got cold in Korea.

"Some of the others would sleep with their sleeping bags zipped over their heads," he said. "I never did that. I wanted my head and my bayonet sticking out the top. Sometimes my hair froze, though."

Some soldiers in Korea got so cold that they had to chip ice out from between their toes, the driver said.

He recounted how Gen. MacArthur had wanted to bomb the bridges in the north to seal out advancing Chinese Communist troops, who had swarmed into North Korea to attack American forces.

The driver lamented that Washington vetoed MacArthur's bombing plans, resulting, he believes, in the North-South standoff in Korea that continues to this day, more than 60 years later.

"For what that has cost us, the government could have built everybody in the United States a brick house and put a Cadillac in every driveway," he said.

The driver said he could have taken a partial disability after the war because of injuries to his feet but chose not to. He sees the way government wastes money now and wonders if that was a good decision.

As we pulled up to the front door of the Times Free Press building, I felt the need to say something.

"Sir, thank you for your military service," I said, extending a handshake.

"I appreciate your father's service," he said softly in reply.

That afternoon, on the ride back to the dealership, I asked the driver if I could use his name for this column.

"I'm kind of a private person," he said after several seconds of silence.

More than 33,000 Americans died in combat in Korea, the "forgotten war." No war in which American blood was spilled should ever be forgotten.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. It doesn't take much courage to thank any veteran for his or her service.

Why not make it your duty.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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