The Korean War is often known as the "forgotten war," but local veterans of the bloody three-year-conflict on the Korean Peninsula will be sharing their memories with Harford County residents this weekend, 60 years after the guns were silenced.
More than 1.7 million Americans served in the Korean theater of operations, and more than 33,000 lost their lives in combat between June 1950 and July 1953, according to data from the U.S. Defense Department and Veterans Administration, posted on infoplease.com.
The peninsula had been divided between the north and south at the 38th Parallel after World War II, a decision of the allied powers who had defeated Japan, which occupied Korea during the war.
The North Koreans, who were allies of the Communist Soviet Union and China, attacked their neighbors to the south in June of 1950, and the United States and its allies around the world quickly sent troops to aid the South Koreans.
The United Nations forces eventually fought the North Koreans and Chinese to a stalemate, and the conflict stopped with a cease-fire; no formal peace treaty was signed, and the peninsula remains divided and tense today, with thousands of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.
"Generations have passed, and the baton has to be passed along so people know about it," said Bob Banker of Fallston, treasurer of Chapter 33 of the Maryland Korean War Veterans Association.
Banker and Sam Fielder Jr. of Jarrettsville spoke with The Aegis on Wednesday about their service in Korea. The two, along with other local Korean War veterans, will share their experiences through an exhibit scheduled to open Friday at the Bel Air branch of the Harford County Public Library.
Banker, Fielder and other members of Chapter 33 donated $1,000 to the Harford County Public Library Foundation in April to support the exhibit.
Banker, 81 and a native of Long Island, N.Y., was drafted into the Army in November of 1951 at the age of 19. He arrived in Korea in May of 1952, a switchboard operator with B Battery of the 8th Field Artillery, attached to the 25th Infantry Division.
"If you think of M*A*S*H with Radar [O'Reilly], operating the switchboard," he said, describing his duties, which involved steering field telephone calls to and from his artillery battery.
Banker, who returned home in June 1953, served with a battery of 105mm howitzers, the same type of gun operated by Fielder.
The Harford County native was a cannoneer with the Marines' Easy Battery in the 2nd Battalion of the 11th Marine Regiment, part of the 1st Marine Division.
Fielder, 80, was 18 and a recent graduate of Bel Air High School when he joined the Marines in September 1951.
Fielder grew up on a dairy farm off Route 136, in the community known as Strawberry Hill. His father served in the Marines in World War I and his brother was in the Marines in World War II.
Fielder served in Korea from April 1952 to May 1953. He and Banker were both stationed near the border between North and South Korea, and the artillery shells from their batteries were often sent to aid infantrymen fighting off Communist attacks.
"I've had some of them come up to me and hug me and tell me, 'You saved my life,' " Fielder said of veterans he met years after the war.
The exhibit, which runs through June 27, includes a photo display, called "GIs and the Kids," pictures of American troops helping Korean children who had been orphaned by the war. The exhibit was created by The Korean War Children's Memorial Project.
Korean children's clothing and an Army uniform of the era, donated for the exhibit, will also be on display on the second floor of the Bel Air branch, which is at 100 E. Pennsylvania Ave.
An opening reception will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, and a panel discussion with veterans, called "The Forgotten War: Veterans Panel Discussion," will be held after the reception.
"We have a situation where few people know about the Korean War," Banker said.
Despite tensions which linger on the Korean Peninsula to this day, the Korean War is not as well known to Americans as World War II or the Vietnam War, the two men said.
Fielder wrote a poem about the war, titled "The Forgotten War," which he has recited often at public gatherings.
"For thirty-eight months we fought for someone else's liberty/And finally the truce was signed and now South Korea is free," Fielder wrote. "And when we got home and ran into our friends/They would say, 'Hey, I haven't seen you for a while, where have you been?' "