Merced County Times Newspaper
The Power of Positive Press

The War That Goes On Forever

From Ship to Shore: A Column by Times Publisher John Derby

John Derby Headshot
Times Publisher John Derby

It was Nov. 11 in 1959 when the Army trained me to be a medic. I had no idea I would end up in Korea as all but 10 percent of my class was sent off to Germany. I planned on seeing Europe, and enjoying my next two years in the military.

Wrong! There was a reason why, the top 10 percent were being held back. Our job would be to take an advanced medical training which would be needed in Korea.

But the Korean War was over, or was it? Actually our government never called it a “war.” It was just a conflict. What was the difference between a war and a conflict?

Soldiers got killed, the bodies went home in bags. But in the case of Korea, the body count was never published in the newspaper. And in 1959, the war was supposed to be over.

For North Korea the war was not over, and it was only later, we actually found out what the North Koreans were up to.

In 1972, we found one of the many tunnels which had been dug under the “DMZ” or the Demilitarized Zone. This tunnel was big enough to allow 40,000 troops with military equipment to cross unnoticed into South Korea.

Even later, North Korea attacked and sunk a military ship which was patrolling the off shore area west of Seoul, the capitol city.

When I got off the troop ship, I saw what a terrible toll war had taken on the people of South Korea, many of whom had family on both sides of the DMZ. When the North Korean Communists overran South Korea, this was just a very poor country with no interest in war and all they wanted was to be left alone.

The Communists in North Korea and China had other designs and that included subjacating the people in South Korea. It would have happened if the United States had not come to the aid of the Korean people.

General MacArthur was still the most respected general in the United States, and he had a plan to stop the Communists in their tracks; however, President Truman did not like his plan and wanted no part of a war with China. He told MacArthur not to cross the Yaloo River which was the dividing line between North Korea and China.

In the end General MacArthur was fired, and the war went on without him.

Today, 67 years later, that war still goes on. There is no peace between North and South Korea. Who knows what would happen if we withdrew our troops from present day Korea. Like so many other places on this earth our troops hold things in balance.

Two years ago, I returned to Korea to look at what our presence in that country had achieved. To my surprise the people of South Korea were very democratic, perhaps even more democratic than the United States.

South Koreans are very intelligent people who are leaders in technology, medicine and manufacturing. The clothes made in South Korea are not only the finest to be found but also very reasonably priced.

South Korea is a destination place for South East Asians who love to vacation there in the summer and even go to ski in the winter.

South Koreans remember the past and when I traveled around Korea I wore a pin on my cap which designated me as a Korean War veteran. Many of the Koreans recognized the pin and thanked me for my service to their country.

In one case, while riding on a subway, an elderly man was so intent in giving me directions, he got off the train at my station, even when he was going elsewhere, and made sure I got to my hotel.

It pains me to see the president of North Korea sword rattling and launching missiles to show his power.

This Nov. 11, I remember the reason we were in Korea and feel that had we not been there, South Korea would be a different place today.

Many soldiers died in Korea. Fortunately I did not; however, I eventually became a journalist in Korea and now can tell the story of why we were there and the good it did in a country where all the people wanted was to live in peace.

On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2019, I will be saluting all veterans both past and present.

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