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Korean War veterans look back 60 years after cease-fire

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Updated: August 30, 2013 6:35AM



The so-called “Forgotten War” was remembered Friday by about 100 people at Kennedy Park on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Included were 20 or so veterans in the park at 113th Street and Western Avenue, all gathered to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the truce that halted the Korean War, which technically never ended because there never has been a formal peace treaty.

The truce was signed July 27, 1953, but it seems like yesterday for Jim Fitch, 82, an Army sergeant in the war.

“It was weird, bizarre. We were calling missions, as we had for my eight months there, and then it became absolutely quiet,” Fitch said.

“We thought it would last six hours, and now it’s been 60 years,” Fitch said.

He discounts the “forgotten” label but understands how it can be considered as such.

“We remember the war, but nobody else did. It was soon after World War II, it was smaller, there was a lot of division in the country about our being there, and, let’s face it, a lot of people said. ‘Where is Korea?’ ” Fitch said.

John Kelly, of the Windy City and Canaryville Veterans, said not giving the Korean War more attention is “a sad commentary” on our nation.

“There were 136 Medals of Honor in Korea. That’s about four a month. How can that war be forgotten? It was one of the most brutal wars we were in,” Kelly said.

Two wreaths were placed at the memorial, which dates to 1988. Several veterans spoke, including Chicago Ald. Jim Balcer (11th), a Marine in Vietnam, and state Sen. Michael Hastings (D-Orland Hills), who served in the Army in Iraq.

Jin-hyun Lee, the South Korean general counsel stationed in Chicago, said the people of South Korea forever will be grateful to the United States, which made “the greatest sacrifice to defend South Korea” after it was invaded by communist North Korea.

Lee presented each Korean War veteran with a medal thanking them for their service.

“Just what I need. I’ve got three medals from the South Korean government already,” jokingly said John Buckley Jr., a retired Marine colonel who said he is “in my 80s.”

Buckley said he often prayed when in Korea: “Get me the hell out of here.”

Buckley, of Chicago’s Marquette Park neighborhood, also served in Japan and China.

The current leadership of North Korea recently has engaged in issuing threats, which he shrugs off as saber-rattling.

“The father was a nitwit,” Buckley said, referring to late North Korean leader Kim Jong II. “So the kid (Kim Jong Un) is a descendant of a nitwit, which makes him another nitwit. We’ll see what happens.”

Buckley, asked by a woman if he served in the Army, proved the adage that once you’re a Marine, you’re always a Marine.

“Bite your lip,” he said. “I tried to get into the Army. I couldn’t qualify. My folks were married. You know what A.R.M.Y. stands for? ‘Ain’t Real Marines Yet.’ ”

Buckley enjoyed Fitch’s amusing story about a colonel who, after the truce began, ordered him to pick up 3,000 trees in Inchon. So Fitch rode a Jeep leading a six-truck convoy. When they arrived, the trees were not the saplings he expected and “looked like twigs.”

“I tossed them all into the back of the Jeep,” Fitch said with a laugh.

Two years ago, a granddaughter went to South Korea to teach English, Fitch said.

“I asked her to take photos for me. She said, ‘I couldn’t take good photos because it’s all a forest.’ I hope some of our trees are in that forest,” Fitch said.

Fitch, formerly of Flossmoor and Chicago’s Beverly community, lives across the street from Kennedy Park at Smith Village, a senior living center, which planned Friday’s ceremony and hosted a luncheon afterward.



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