Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Vet remembers ‘Forgotten War’


KOREAN WAR VET Walt Harmon owns the Sportsman's Hall in Pollock Pines. Democrat photo by Pat Dollins

From page A1 | August 02, 2013 | 20 Comments

In 1948, Walter R. Harmon, age 16, was in the Air Force, after running away from home in Alameda.

“All my brothers and sisters, who were much older than me, had been involved in WWII, and one of my brothers was highly decorated,” said Harmon, who is now 82. “I joined up what is now the Air Force and was sent to Lackland Air Force Base. I was doing well and then they wanted me to join Officers Candidate School.”

That was when the military found out Harmon was only 16.

“After I was discharged, I hitchhiked back home and went back to Oakland Technical High School. I told the principal I was a vet and had the G.I.Bill. We didn’t get along,” said Harmon. “I got my mother to sign the paper to join the California Air National Guard when I was 17.”

When the 144th Fighter Air Wing was activated during the Korean War in 1951, Harmon was sent to electronics school in Illinois.

“I wanted to see action and applied for active duty in Korea, but I was sent to more schools for radar and radio at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa and at Johnson Air Force Base in Japan,” he said.

“The war was rolling along pretty hard, but I was still in school,” said Harmon. During his many hours of school during his three years in the Air Force, he met a number of combat-weary American and South Korean soldiers while on leave in a mountain R&R camp in Japan. “I studied Korean and I met a lot of the Korean bigwigs.”

He was given the Korean Service Ribbon and the United Nations Service Ribbon and was discharged in 1953 as an Airman First Class, Tech Specialist.

Although it’s been 60 years, the Korean War is not officially over, according to Harmon and some other Korean War vets. A cease-fire was signed by North and South Korea on July 27, 1953, but Harmon calls it a “timeout.” Almost 2 million Americans served in the Korean War and 33,686 of them were killed. During the three-year war, black and white troops fought together in racially mixed armed services for the first time, air-to-air fighter jet combat became a reality and mobile army surgical hospitals (MASH) using helicopters as ambulances revolutionized medical care.

The walls of Sportman’s Hall in Pollock Pines, which Harmon owns, bear photographs, plaques and framed documents from U.S. presidents attesting to Harmon’s interests and accomplishments, which are wide and varied. One display is devoted to Gen. William McEntire Dye, who was the first U.S. military and agricultural adviser in Korea in 1888, helping to establish Korean-American relations.

Harmon traveled back to Korea, Okinawa and Japan in 1998 and is planning to return to tour both North and South Korea and China this August. On the 1998 trip, he and a Korean friend toured shipbuilding companies and steel mills in South Korea in the company of Gen. Lee and met the heads of major companies, like Hyundai. Harmon spoke at a Korean university and was invited to give a similar talk to a women’s-only group.

Along with fellow Korean veteran Clint Eastwood, Harmon wants to make sure “The Forgotten War” isn’t forgotten.

“It shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s an important piece of history and of our comradeship with the Korean people,” he said.

The Korean people, according to Harmon, are “brilliant, proud people and we are lucky to have them as friends.” He cites examples of U.S.-Korean collaboration including South Korea’s sending 312,000 soldiers from 1965-1973 to fight alongside American soldiers in Vietnam and a collaboration between U.S. Steel and Korean Steel. Harmon, the author of several books, was acknowledged for his friendship and encouragement in the book, “Genesis of Korea-America Friendship,” by the author Dr. Young Sop Ahn.

Harmon received a letter from Eastwood, who attended Oakland Technical High School two years ahead of Harmon, asking for his support in moving the Korean War National Museum from Springfield, Ill., to a larger venue in New York City. Harmon is using his considerable energy to move this plan forward.

“Our Korean War vets are dying off rapidly,” said Harmon. “It is important to preserve their stories before it is too late.”

During the 60th anniversary ceremonies at the Korean War Memorial honoring the cease-fire on July 27, President Barrack Obama said that no war or veteran should be forgotten and the legacy of the Korean War veterans is 50 million people who live freely in South Korea.

Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.


Discussion | 20 comments

  • James E.August 01, 2013 - 8:09 pm

    I missed being a Korean War veteran by two days. I enlisted on July 29, 1954 and the war officially ended on July 27, 1954. I would have enlisted on July 19, 1954 (17th birthday), but my birth certificate was in question and it took 10 days to get it verified. Clint Eastwood. You would think with all his manly roles he would have been a heck of a fighter up near the Yalu River in minus 20 degree weather. You would think, but his Army service was at Fort Ord, California, as a life guard at the post swimming pool. Nevertheless, the Korean "Police Action" has indeed become our forgotten war, and those who fought in the mud and snow in a brutal infantry and air war deserve our utmost respect and honor.

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  • robertdnollAugust 02, 2013 - 8:51 am

    pathetic and sad

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  • James E.August 02, 2013 - 9:08 am

    Robertdnoll, pathetic and sad? Could you expand on that?

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  • FranAugust 02, 2013 - 7:07 pm

    I like Walt--interesting Pollock Pines charter. Okay I am inviting everyone to Our community centers Third Friday Fiesta!!! All-You--Can--Eat Taco night at the Pollock Pines Camino Community Center August 16th 5:00-7:30 (Taco choices: beef, fish and Pork Verde) People will be passing out coupons in town at random--or you can go to the community center during the week to pick up some. Although many were on vacation--we had over 100 people. Adults $6.00(w/coupon $5.00) Children under 12 $3.00 (w/coupon $2.50) Any money made goes to the up keep of our is our heart. It is not a CDS--it is run on donations by volunteers (no one gets paid--they do things from their heart here.) We have had over 100 people come enjoy the whole atmosphere of these diners this summer...come up and play.

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  • FranAugust 02, 2013 - 7:09 pm


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  • EvelynAugust 04, 2013 - 5:51 pm

    95-year-old WW2 hero refuses medical care, so cops kill him in his nursing home - HERE

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  • FranAugust 04, 2013 - 5:59 pm

    In my mind there is no reason to do this to a 95 year old...Im wobbly--someone could easier just push me down on my bottom. The news is so strange recently.

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  • Phil VeerkampAugust 04, 2013 - 7:25 pm

    Evelyn, I read, WW2 hero refuses medical care, so cops kill him in his nursing home. I must say that the "journalist" who composed that title is at least as guilty with respect to the journalism craft as the police are to their profession. The title is as much an abomination to journalism as the shooting is to law enforcement.

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  • EvelynAugust 04, 2013 - 7:46 pm

    Writing meaningful, concise, interesting headlines is an art form, one at which Pat Lakey excelled.

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  • Phil VeerkampAugust 04, 2013 - 8:08 pm

    How has Pat Lakey become germane to these comments? The MD article is by Wendy, and Pat Lakey did not write the Cook County, Illinois article you linked to. I do not understand the connection to Pat. Are you suggesting that Pat seek employment in Illinois?

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  • Phil VeerkampAugust 04, 2013 - 8:14 pm

    I wonder if In El Dorado County has a "fair use" agreement with Cook County Illinois.

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  • EvelynAugust 04, 2013 - 8:51 pm

    I was commenting on the art of writing good headlines. Am thinking of Pat because the Mt. Dem. is publishing another of her articles, which delights me. She always used to improve my titles. END OF STORY. Welcome home!

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  • James E.August 04, 2013 - 10:33 pm

    Phil, those of us who love Pat Lakey are liable to bring up her name regardless of topic. I don't know where she went, but I'm glad she has returned. We love you Pat.

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  • James E.August 04, 2013 - 10:45 pm

    Let me see if I can write a proper headline for that story: "Police enter Retirement Home, assess the situation and then shoot a bean bag bullet killing a 95 year old resident." A sad story from beginning to end. And, even if he had a knife, given he used a walker, any advance on a police officer would have been about 6 inches an hour (at age 95 rate of advance is very slow). They could have waited him out until he felt he needed his nap.

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  • Phil VeerkampAugust 05, 2013 - 5:26 am

    Good morning, Colonel! How 'bout this headline - Cops kill WW2 hero in retirement home.

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  • robertdnollAugust 05, 2013 - 6:12 am

    Mr Harmon's story of his time during the Korean War and his efforts now to honor those veterans is just that,riding on coat tails is petty and juvenile

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  • Phil VeerkampAugust 05, 2013 - 6:37 am

    robertdnoll, that you apparently disdain sincere efforts to honor American veterans is, "pathetic and sad."

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  • EvelynAugust 05, 2013 - 8:03 am

    SPEAKING OF UNFORTUNATE HEADLINES: • Homeless survive winter: Now what? • Chick Accuses Some Of Her Male Colleagues Of Sexism • Starvation Can Lead To Health Hazards • No One Reported Shot, Stabbed Or Slashed In New York City On Monday • Hospitals Resort To Hiring Doctors, and • THIS

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  • robertdnollAugust 05, 2013 - 9:03 am

    honorable to hijack his story to illustrate your unselfish acts of community service,your courageous acts of valor if only,how law enforcement is so inept and how journalists should learn their craft in the Netherlands

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  • EvelynSeptember 05, 2013 - 9:36 am

    "Disabled American Veterans Non-Profit Charity Execs Paid As Much As the President, While 200,000 Veterans Homeless" - HERE

    Reply | Report abusive comment


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