The Korean veterans saved a nation, and we broke the back of communism in Korea. —Korean War veteran John Cole
SALT LAKE CITY — Sixty years ago, John Cole was a young Marine involved some of the fiercest fighting in some of the most brutal weather American forces have ever faced.
"See this name right here, William E. Wagner?" he asked while pointing to the name on the Utah Korean War Memorial at Memory Grove Park. "He was the best man in my wedding."
Cole lost close friends and comrades. On Wednesday, the Roy resident was honored with 200 other Utah veterans of the so-called "Forgotten War" for the sacrifices they made 60 years ago.
"Many people didn't even know where Korea was on the map," said Col. David J. Clark, director of the Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee.
Thirty-three thousand Americans were killed in action. About 17,000 Utahns served in the Korean War, and 141 were killed in action. All of their names are etched in the stone monument in Memory Grove.
Veterans across the nation have been invited to a tribute ceremony in Washington, D.C., on July 27 — the 60th anniversary of the day the Korean War Armistice was signed in 1953.
“The Korean veterans saved a nation,” Cole said, “and we broke the back of communism in Korea.”
Over the past few months, Clark has been traveling the country to participate in smaller commemoration ceremonies for veterans, most of whom will not make it to Washington for the July event.
While many Americans knew nothing of Korea, three years of brutal battle was enough to make Utah veterans never forget.
"So many people didn't recognize what had happened," Cole said. "We did because we were there, but many people didn't."
Cole and Charlie Pharr are Army veterans who survived the monthlong Battle of Chosin Reservoir, one of the fiercest fights of modern warfare. Both talked of that hellish experience during Wednesday's ceremony.
Fifteen-thousand American troops fought waves of Chinese soldiers, they said, in temperatures that hovered around 40 degrees below zero.
"The main thing I remember was not the pain from being wounded," Cole said, "but the pain from the weather — the cold, cold weather.”
Three-thousand Americans died in that 78-mile retreat.
Clark said the "thanks" the Korean veterans are now receiving is the culmination of three years of work.
"It's probably one of the most significant jobs I've ever done in the military," he said, having served 30 years.
Clark presented the Utah veterans certificates of appreciation Wednesday.
"When they came back from the Korean War, they did not receive the accolades that some of their predecessors received," he said. “This is an opportunity, while these men and women are still alive, to say thank you on behalf of a grateful nation for what they did.”
Cole said many are still perplexed that while the fighting ended six decades ago, the U.S. is still in conflict with North Korea.
"They still are priming for war, and it's scary," Cole said.
That doesn't sit well with him and his fellow comrades.
"You talk to every Korean War veteran today, and they'll say, 'I'm ready to go back. We'll finish it this time. We're not going to let politicians stop us,'" he said.