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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, June 18, 2001

'Forgotten war' remembered

By Jessica Webster
Advertiser Staff Writer

Military historian Tim Keck isn't asking America to drape the Korean War in Hollywood glitz or to make it a topical book sensation; he merely wants people to appreciate the "forgotten war" in Korea and the men and women who participated.

The "Bridge of No Return" crosses the military demarcation line between North Korea and South Korea at Panmunjom. Prisoners of war were allowed to cross the bridge during Operation Big Switch in 1953.

U.S. Air Force

That goal will come closer to attainment when the Korean War takes center stage in Honolulu next Monday to June 27 during the Pacific Air Force's Korean War Air Power Symposium, billed as the largest event of its kind within the Department of Defense.

"You know, I can walk through Borders Bookstore's military history section and there are probably 200 books dealing with WWII, and maybe eight dealing with Korea," said Keck, who is a command historian with the Pacific Air Forces. "WWII was such a watershed event for our country, and we came out of that war being the dominant global power, having clearly defeated an enemy that most people regarded as evil. Millions of men and women fought and then came home.

"Then scarcely after WWII, some of the same people were recalled to fight in a country they'd never heard of. The goals were never really clear, and there was no surrender; they just negotiated for a few years."

Many men and women associated with military history are striving to reacquaint people with the events of the Korean War and give the veterans who participated due praise.

Though more than 36,000 Americans lost their lives and more than 100,000 were wounded in the Korean War, Keck said many veterans cannot help but feel bad that their participation is not remembered as often, nor is it recognized at the caliber of World War II or the events of Pearl Harbor.

More than 1,200 of the war dead buried at Punchbowl, in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, are Korean War veterans.

"We don't want any tub-thumping, super-patriotic recognition; we just want everyone to remember our history and recognize that these veterans were as brave as any war heroes we've ever had," said Keck.

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Ben Cassiday, a Honolulu native, will be a panelist covering the aerial events of the first 90 days of the war.

"At the time the war started, I was a Navy exchange pilot. It was all very unknown to me," he said. "Here I was, an Air Force guy flying off a Navy carrier to a small country for a war I didn't know anything about."

Cassiday, now 79, said the men on the ground in Korea were the ones he particularly admired because of the cold and the danger.

More than 200 Korean War veterans, spouses and historians are expected to attend the 50th anniversary symposium. Speakers will include South Korea's most renowned war hero and military leader, Gen. Sun Yup Paik, and Lt. Gen. Charles Heflebower, who commands the Air Force's 7th Air Force in South Korea.

Panel discussions will cover nearly every aspect of the air war, including air-to-air and air-to-ground operations, aerial support, bomber operations, special operations and search and rescue.

The symposium will cover discussions with nurses, military spouses and civilians, historians, Korean War aces, a Medal of Honor recipient, and veterans from Russia, Great Britain, and North and South Korea.

Keck said the end result of the symposium — which will run more as an interactive dialogue than a one-way presentation — will be the publication of symposium transcripts, interviews with veterans, panelist papers, historical photos and documents from the National Records Archives.

Beyond the symposium, organizers have put together a "'50s Night" party at a Korean War-era decorated hangar at Hickam Air Force Base, as well as a golf tournament and a historical tour.

The symposium registration fee is $110 plus $55 per dependent or guest. More information is available from the Pacific Air Force history office: 449-3936.