The weather was unseasonably cold for the New Hyde Park Veterans Day observance last Saturday morning in front of Village Hall, an appropriate atmosphere for Korean War veteran Bob Christman to recount his experience fighting in that unresolved conflict.
As grand marshal and principal speaker at the event, Christman, past commander of New Hyde Park G. & E. Linder VFW Post 8031, gave a chilling recap of the cost of the Korean conflict and the conditions the troops who served there endured.
Often called “The Forgotten War,” Christman noted that the conflict was initially a United Nations “police action,” which began in June 1950 when North Korean troops attacked South Korea across the 38th parallel. After three years of fighting, with American troops carrying most of the burden in combat, Christman said the conflict ended in a “stalemate,” with a truce declared on July 27, 1953.
U.S. troops ultimately sustained 128,650 killed or wounded in a war in which, as Christman noted, no peace treaty was ever signed.
Christman said he was an infantryman in Charlie Company, part of the U.S. Army 7th Division, stationed on the front line to hold a position known as “Suicide Hill.” It earned the nickname, he said, because it was so steep a frontal assault on the American and South Korean troops’ position at its summit would have been a suicidal one.
But outside the hill’s defensive perimeter, empty beer cans filled with stones were strung to warn of an enemy attack. Inside the perimeter, he said a network of bunkers interconnected every 50 feet comprised the defense structure.
The North Korean troops kept their distance, but made their presence felt.
“We were under mortar shelling every day. At night, the enemy fired at any light that appeared,” Christman said, adding, “Outgoing artillery shells passed 100 feet over our heads.”
In that cold, lonely outpost, he said the U.S. troops survived on World War II vintage K rations and one hot meal daily. They would be stationed on the hill for 30 days at a time, then rotated to rear positions. He noted that the Korean conflict marked the first time that white and black soldiers fought together in Army combat units.
On the day of the truce, combatants on both sides continued firing at each other until 10 p.m. The next morning Christman said the North Koreans called to the Americans and South Koreans on the hilltop to join in their celebration of the war’s cessation. But orders were passed to not join in.
Christman concluded by noting that the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea are currently engaged “in an endless war of words.”
Following his remarks, Mario Obertis, commander of VFW Post 8031 read a list of deceased VFW members and other New Hyde Park residents who lost their lives in foreign combat action.
New Hyde Park Mayor Lawrence Montreuil, a U.S. Air Force veteran, followed Obertis’s somber roll call by recounting a trip he made several years ago to visit his son, U.S. Marine Capt. Lawrence Montreuil, at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina shortly before the younger Montreuil was due to embark for a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
On the way home, Montreuil said he stopped for the night near the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia. He went into a bar for a beer and encountered three Marine combat veterans sitting at the bar who, he recalled, had three legs between them.
“It was shocking and sobering for me,” he said.
After paying their tab, he said he walked out onto the back porch of the bar and as he sat there, one of the Marines joined him. He told the Marine of his apprehension about his son’s imminent mission in Afghanistan.
He said the disabled Marine sought to reassure him, saying, “Sir, don’t worry. His buddies will take care of him.”
“These veterans are extraordinary people. And it’s right that we honor them today,” Montreuil concluded.
John McGuire, commander of local American Legion Post 1089 then placed a wreath at the war memorial on the lawn in front of Village Hall.
A five-man rifle squad fired a three-volley salute to honor all veterans.
The ceremony ended as VFW Post 8031 auxiliary member Marilyn Obertis played taps to honor those who had fallen in combat.