Korean war vets recall the Forgotten War

Lest we forget: Sunday, July 27, 2014 marks 61 years since the armistice of the Korean War. From left standing: Ron Ison, Blacktown RSL Sub-Branch President Bruce Scott, Bill Hardie, Keith Chester seated left and Rick Cooper at Blacktown RSL. Picture: Geoff Jones.

Lest we forget: Sunday, July 27, 2014 marks 61 years since the armistice of the Korean War. From left standing: Ron Ison, Blacktown RSL Sub-Branch President Bruce Scott, Bill Hardie, Keith Chester seated left and Rick Cooper at Blacktown RSL. Picture: Geoff Jones.

Sixty-one years since the ceasefire of the so-called ‘‘forgotten’’ Korean war, the Sun spoke to five veterans about their memories of the conflict.

July 27 marks 61 years since the armistice of the bloody cold war battle, which ended fighting in 1953 and claimed  more than 340 Australian souls, as well as 47,000 South Koreans, 36,574 Americans, 1,109 British and 33 New Zealanders, among many more.

Communist forces lost 140,000 North Korean fighters and 183,108 from China.

The date is now marked as the Korean War Veterans’ Day.

‘‘I got to Korea early March 1952,’’ recalled Rick Cooper, 86, of Blacktown.

‘‘It was cold, sometimes it was minus 35, and we lived like animals in little holes called hutchies, a Japanese word for house. I don’t know how we managed.

Australian Sailor Phil Rackett from Adelaide with the landrover from HMAS Bataan. Source: Fairfax Media photo archives.

Australian Sailor Phil Rackett from Adelaide with the landrover from HMAS Bataan. Source: Fairfax Media photo archives.

‘‘My company were in Operation Blaze, we were the only Australian force over there to do a daylight attack on a feature, somewhere above the 38th parallel... we lost half the company.

‘‘Unfortunately, the Chinese knew about our way out, they’d pinpointed our escape route, that’s how we lost our blokes.’’

For Blacktown RSL Sub-Branch President Bruce Scott, who also lost mates in battle, the pain is still palpable.

‘‘They say it was a police action, but it was still a bloody war,’’ Mr Scott said. ‘‘They had a mine called the jumping jack, it used to jump up when it got trodden on, to kill more people.

‘‘We should remember people, the Australian lives lost there.’’

Although Sunday marks the armistice, a peace treaty has never been signed between the two Koreas and the demilitarised zone between them, or DMZ, is heavily guarded from both sides.

Remembering the ‘‘Forgotten War’’: In Their Own Words:

Rick Cooper, 86, Blacktown, served with the 1st battalion in 1952:

■ ‘‘It was cold, sometimes it was minus 35, and we lived like animals in little holes called hutchies. I don't know how we managed. When I was there, the war was quite static. We couldn't move during the daytime because the enemy was about 500 metres away on their hill. We'd get the snipers and the riflemen. We used to get mortared and shelled during the day if we made the slightest movement. We’d go on fighting patrols, ambush patrols and "reccy" or reconnaissance patrols. You never took your boots off and you had to be ready to move.’’

■ ‘‘When you were on ambush it used to be terrible because the mosquitoes used to be so bad out in the scrub. We had sand bags with mosquito repellant on them on our heads, with the eyes cut out. You couldn't slap them because you would make a noise, you were laying in wait.’’

■ ‘‘My company were in Operation Blaze, and we were the only Australian force over there to do a daylight attack on a feature, somewhere above the 38th parallel. I know that we lost half the company. Unfortunately the Chinese knew about our way out, they’d pinpointed our escape route, that’s how we lost our blokes.’’

Ron Ison, 81, Blacktown, served 1953-54 with 3rd battalion in the headquarter company:

■ ‘‘They call it the forgotten war and unfortunately you don’t hear much about it. Nine Australian soldiers died there during my 12 months, that I remember more than anything else. Although I didn’t know any of them personally, I felt their loss. I’m not saying our service was wasted or anything like that but it’s quite a long way from Australia, and Australia wasn’t under any direct threat - but we were all volunteers.’’

■ ‘‘I can remember one yank got clubbed to death by the North Koreans because they had a fight about a tree being cut down. The yanks wanted the tree removed because it was blocking the view of the North Korean front line. When the yanks sent a squad to chop the tree down, the North Koreans sent a squad over and it came to blows. That was in the American sector, but we all heard about it pretty quickly. The news gets around when something like that happens.’’

■ ‘‘I wasn’t posted to a rifle company or a support company. I never saw the front line my whole 12 months. The only enemy I saw were prisoners of war. The headquarter company was a mixture of different services to the battalion, like transport, mechanics workshop, oil and petrol supply to other troops and the battalion jail.’’

Bruce Scott, 80, Blacktown, served with the 3rd and 1st battalions from 1951 to 1952:

■ ‘‘We should remember people, the Australian lives lost there. I would hate to think that these men died in vain.’’

■ ‘‘They say it was a police action, but it was still a bloody war. They had a mine called the jumping jack. It used to jump up when it got trodden on, to kill more people. [Our mission was to] find the enemy, seek him out, and kill. I don’t think much about Korea, I don’t think much about it at all.’’

■ ‘‘I went to a doctor about two years ago, over in Blacktown, and she was a Korean lass I’d say about mid 20s. She knew I was a veteran because of my gold card. She asked me where I served and I said Korea, and she said, “I’ve got to call my mother and tell her.” I said “why?” and she said, “Mum was one of the refugees coming through your lines.”

Keith Chester, 80, Blacktown, served on the HMAS Culgoa in 1953:

■ ‘‘We'd do about three weeks of a month on the coast of Korea and we'd bombard every day and night until we ran out of ammunition, then we'd go back to Japan and replenish and go back for another three weeks. Sometimes we’d take SouthKorean commandos and put them behind enemy lines. When they were ready to come back, they’d give us a signal and we’d pick them up again. When we picked them up, some of them were shot to pieces. We also picked up the dead, if they could get them back to the beach. There were a lot of casualties. We had a big hospital ship anchored in the Yellow Sea.’’

■ ‘‘The South Korean commandos never told us anything about their operations. I remember one group of about about five or six young Koreans about 16 or 17 years old and there was one American guy with them, they’d just caused havoc behind the enemy lines.’’

■ ‘‘I was on a frigate; there were only 180 to 200 of us. We worked mainly with the English and the United States 7th fleet.’’

Bill Hardie, 82, Blacktown, served with the infantry in 1954:

■ ‘‘We got there just after the ceasefire, there was no conflict for us, we never fired a shot. In the winter time, you just stayed in your tents, and dug defensive trenches. Every morning, they took you out to the defensive position. We did odd patrols, but not much. We just walked down through all the anti personnel mines.’’

Unfortunately, the Chinese knew about our way out, they’d pinpointed our escape route, that’s how we lost our blokes. - Rick Cooper

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