Ever since Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan hit the shelves in 2010, I found it more and more common for veterans to open up and sometimes even approach me directly with stories from their time in the armed forces. I’d hear all kinds of stories from a wide variety of people- from a young soldier just back from Iraq whose friend was blown to pieces right before his eyes, to a World War II prisoner of war who escaped and was hidden and cared for by a German couple until he could return home. I’ve heard everything in between. I’ve laughed at the goofiest and most sardonic of military humor, and I’ve wept with blue star or gold star parents who wished they could have traded places with their wounded or fallen children.
The stories from those who served in the Korean War captivated me the most mainly because of the very real danger that they’d be lost- and at a time when we most need to learn from them. I felt that the Korean War was like a neglected middle child constantly overshadowed by the bigger, more popular brother World War II and the volatile, misunderstood little sister in Vietnam. Yet one of the most important things I learned about the Korean War that I learned from our veterans rather than from M.A.S.H. reruns is that what we choose to overlook or forget can hurt us later on.
But I’m not posting to wax political about North Korea. Rather, I just wish to provide some insights as to why I jumped at the chance to help write the stories of four Korean War veterans, how informative and transformative I found the experience, and why it’s important to help get the books into print.
Even with a proven and documented track record of listening and learning without judging, I had a few obstacles. The sad reality is that it is not easy for older veterans to open up and share their stories with a relatively young stranger- especially after they’ve gotten used to decades of silence. My civilian status didn’t help matters. That’s where the indispensable Scott Lee came in. As a veteran dealing with his own combat-related PTSD, he came better equipped to make the veterans he spoke to for this project comfortable talking about their experiences.
Even with Scott conducting the interviews, not all the veterans were willing to discuss their experiences. Medal of Honor recipient Rudy Hernandez did not wish to be interviewed for this, and given what I was able to learn about all he’d endured, I don’t blame him. The citation for his “indomitable fighting spirit, outstanding courage, and tenacious devotion to duty,” is a matter of public record and says enough about him. I was grateful enough to be allowed to reference that and share his story without making him rehash anything.
Fellow Medal of Honor recipient Ronald Rosser proved to be much more talkative, and I found myself sorting through an overabundance of information to include in an unfortunately limited number of pages. What touched me most was the modesty and the sense of humor I saw, but especially his keen memory for the heroic contributions he saw others make.
I had the greatest difficulty scripting David Mills’ accounts. It was of utmost importance to him that I include how his faith sustained him emotionally and perhaps even played a role in his physical survival as a prisoner of war. That was the easy part. Recounting the triumphs and tribulations of some of his fellow POW’s from the US, England, and Australia was also relatively easy. It was the simple fact that I was writing about a seventeen year old prisoner of war that prompted me to hug my own adolescent children a little tighter.
The difficulties I had with scripting one of Frederick “Boots” Blesse’s many dogfights were of a much more technical nature and were much more fun to resolve. I wanted to do justice to a story about the man who literally wrote the book on air combat tactics, but since all the flight hours I’ve logged were strictly as a commercial airline passenger, I needed help. Thankfully, I had all the help I needed with everything from aviation jargon to how a pilot would perform various maneuvers thanks to my daughter and to the Eagle Rock Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol. It broke my heart that Maj. Gen. Blesse passed away before he could see our book, but I suspect he would have appreciated that some of this generation’s young cadet airmen would learn and get involved in helping share his story.
I also should give credit to local Korean War vets Don Saville and Gary Lewis, who shared with me their own experiences in Korea and taught me everything they knew about what happened where. Mr. Saville almost literally kept a map in his head of the Korean peninsula from Pusan up to the Yalu River. Thanks also to the folks at Ross’ Guns, who answered all the questions I had about M1 carbines. And especially thanks to all who will help this project go to print by supporting this Kickstarter campaign.