Korea was called the forgotten war. Wedged historically between the big win of World War Two and the first loss of Viet Nam, its stalemate gets far less attention than either. There were over 33,000 KIA from 1950 to 1953, compared to Iraq’s current 4,100 and 55,000 in Viet Nam. The Koreans suffered many more.
This area made a disproportionate contribution. From a local population of around 100,000, 12 of the 60 locals killed came from the Marine Reserve unit, Easy Company, 13th Battalion, USMCR.
In the ‘90s, I was honored to feature them on a three-hour radio broadcast and in a cover story in the Tucson Weekly. They’ve since honored me with invitations to their reunions, speaking engagements to Marine veterans, and telling their stories every Marine Corps Day, 10 Nov. Not bad for a National Guard Zoomie who never got shot at.
There were 25 of the original 258 in attendance last week at the 58th anniversary of their call-up. Over 200 actually saw Korea, from the Pusan perimeter and the Inchon Landing to the famous fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir, where the vastly outnumbered First Marine Division destroyed two Chinese field armies.
Easy Company was scattered throughout other units, partly because many sets of brothers and cousins were present. Some hadn’t seen basic training, some were under 18. A few never left the states. Others didn’t reach Korea until later in the war. Most were simply thrown in where needed. The outfit was 85 percent Hispanic. To this day, Mexican -Americans are the ethnic group with the highest percentage of Marine recruitment. Space contains me to just three individual accounts.
Medical Corpsman Jimmy Fisher joined the Navy in 1945. He was with the 5th Marines from Pusan on. He tells us it was so cold at the Chosin that the morphine syringes froze and had to be thawed in the medics’ mouths. Fisher picked up a Purple Heart himself before returning to ultimately become a school principal in TUSD.
Ruben Moreno also had prior Navy service. By 1950 a machine gun squad leader, he earned two of Easy Company’s nine Bronze Stars. He didn’t attend reunions at first, but later developed an interest, resulting in many oral histories transcribed from his comrades and a role as Easy Company’s historian. In reading the citation for his second award, I noted that rescuing a wounded comrade under heavy fire should’ve brought higher recognition. He pointed out who signed it with a smile - Lewis B. Puller, Colonel, USMC. For most Marines, a Bronze Star from the legendary Chesty Puller trumps almost anything else.
Gilbert Romero has two of the almost 50 Purple Hearts. He earned the first one in March of 1951. On April 24th he was hit in the chin and chest. The helicopter he was on was shot down and he was hit again. Loaded into a truck, it was ambushed and he was again hit — in both legs. That all happened the same day, only entitling him to one more Purple Heart. He was taken to an aid station, where Jimmy Fisher placed a scapular in his hand. It was still there when he woke up days later in a hospital in Japan. After 26 surgeries, Romero can still jitterbug.
Was it worth it? They think so. Here’s one way to tell. Check the night-time satellite photos from NASA and note South Korea has electricity. North Korea displays the darkness symbolic of the wretched tyrants in charge.
Across the street from Tucson Electric Park is a Korean War Memorial containing the photos of those 12 local Marines who made the supreme sacrifice. Check it out some time.
Semper Fi, guys.