In 1950, when the country was still shaking off the effects of the Second World War, American soldiers were once again dispatched overseas to fight. This time, it wasn’t a globally engulfing conflict, but a relatively contained confrontation in a small country that few Americans knew anything about. Almost 40,000 American soldiers died and more than 100,000 were wounded in the Korean War; and although the tensions between North and South Korea remain, the memory of the conflict soon faded into what became “The Forgotten War.” But nationwide, about two million veterans of the war are still living, now in their seventh and eighth decades of life.
Blue Ridge Honor Flight (formerly HonorAir) plans to honor the sacrifices made in the Korean War late this month by flying Western North Carolina’s veterans of the war to Washington to visit the Korean War Memorial, just south of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool on the National Mall. The September 24 flight will take place on the tenth anniversary of the first HonorAir charter ever, which has since flown scores of World War II veterans to that conflict’s memorial in the Capitol. (Hubs nationwide have flown more than 150,000 veterans.)
The idea to expand the program to encompass Korean War veterans isn’t new — but it’s only viable because of an additional sacrifice. “During the financial downturn, we asked a group of Korean War veterans if we should work to fly their veterans or to help homeless veterans,” says Jeff Miller, founder of Blue Ridge Honor Flight and a prominent Hendersonville businessman. “They immediately said, ‘Take care of the homeless,’ and that’s what we’ve been doing for several years now, while at the same time flying any World War II veterans who contacted us to D.C.”
With a price tag of about $60,000 dollars for the chartered flight, it is itself a tribute to the veterans that the entire cost is covered by donations. “Some will be corporate [donations], but most of the money comes from private individuals,” notes Miller, adding that a small amount is also being contributed by several area rotary clubs and by the national Honor Flight Network. Veterans come from not only Henderson County, but Buncombe, Polk, and Transylvania, as well.
The Korean War’s “forgotten” status is reflected in the numbers: its memorial in Washington wasn’t dedicated until 1995, more than 40 years after the war ended and more than a decade after the Vietnam War Memorial was opened to the public.
“In 1950, when South Korea was invaded by the North, most of the free world was trying to forget World War II and had been seriously disarming and demilitarizing,” says Hilliard Staton of Hendersonville, who served in Korea with the Marines during the last year of the conflict, and who will be on this month’s flight to Washington. “The war was never forgotten by those who were in it, nor have the Koreans forgotten any of it.”
The United Nations supplied the majority of troops against the North’s Chinese-backed Communist forces. (Termed a “police action” by the UN, it was never formally sanctioned by Congress.)
The war ended with the truce of July, 1953 that divided the country, with results that continue to affect international relations today.
As with previous HonorAir flights, this month’s trip will depart from Asheville Regional Airport and will be met in Washington by a police escort. Veterans will not only visit the memorial but other notable sites in the Capitol, including the Vietnam War Memorial and its somber wall of names.
Many veterans of World War II who survived that conflict, only to lose sons and daughters two decades later in Vietnam, ask to visit the wall. Miller particularly remembered one such veteran served by a past Honor flight. “This gentleman had never been able to go to the wall, and we were able to get him there and see that he had a very private moment with his son, while at the same time being surrounded and protected by many Vietnam War veterans there to support him.
“The wall always brings me to my knees,” he adds. “It’s the names.”
For more information about the trip and Blue Ridge Honor Flight, visit blueridgehonorflight.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 866-224-4094.