Korean War vets: You live with it the rest of your life

vmannix@bradenton.comJune 25, 2010 


Walter “Scotty” Blomeley, Thomas “Skip” Hannon and Ernest Lancey remember where they were 60 years ago today.

On June 25, 1950, Blomeley was a 23-year-old Marine reservist and had a summer job at the Shell Oil depot in Sewaren, N.J.

Thomas “Skip” Hannon was a 19-year-old office boy in Manhattan. He was about to be drafted.

Ernest Lancey was a 17-year-old high school kid in Keane, N.H.

“My father told me I had to have a job,” he said. “So I joined the National Guard and volunteered for the draft.”

All their lives changed dramatically on June 25, 1950.

On that date, 107,000 North Korean troops invaded South Korea, igniting the Korean War, a bitter conflict whose political and strategic repercussions are felt decades after the ceasefire on July 27, 1953.

The “Forgotten War” will never be forgotten by Blomeley, Hannon and Lancey.

“I don’t think you ever forget about it,” Blomeley said after Thursday’s meeting of the Korean War Veterans Association at American Legion Kirby Stewart Post 24. “You’ll always remember it and it will come back to you. You live with it the rest of your life.”

An infantryman with the First Marine Division, Blomeley fought at the Chosin Reservoir, one of the war’s defining engagements where 25,000 Marines fought off 120,000 Communist Chinese troops in a 10-day battle in sub-zero weather.

‘‘Many times we wonder how the hell we ever managed to get through that,” said the Brooklyn, N.Y. native, who received the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. “It was 20 to 30, even 40 below zero with 20- to 30-mph winds. Snow, ice and sleet every day. But when we needed air support, the good Lord cleared the sky so we got it.”

One of Hannon’s recollections involved the cruel fates of war.

A spotter with an 8th Army artillery unit on the verge of being overrun, he called in a barrage close to their lines.

A Republic of Korea artillery unit responded and their shelling killed their own troops. “I felt terrible,” said Hannon, also a Purple Heart recipient.

Lancey was with a 7th Army anti-aircraft unit and his memories are no less sobering.

“I remember Korean kids rummaging through garbage barrels for something to eat,” he said. “We had a lieutenant, who was good to us, bringing us water and something to eat up on the front lines. One night they dropped a mortar shell on his jeep, killing him and his driver.”

They were two of nearly 34,000 Americans who died during the war.

Sixty years later, the three veterans considered what that sacrifice wrought on the Korean peninsula.

“South Korea became a very prosperous country,” Blomeley said. “What other war since then have we had that success?”

“South Korea’s was an agrarian economy and it changed dramatically because of what we did,” Hannon said. “I’m proud of that.”

As for North Korea?

“The North is no better than when it started the conflict,” Lancey said. “In fact, it gets worse every day.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.

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