Forgotten War, Unforgotten Soldiers

Portraits of seven veterans in Bloomington who fought in the Korean War

The Korean War broke out June 25, 1950, as 140,000 North Korean troops invaded South Korea. It was the first proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union of the Cold War era.

Two days after the war broke out, the U.S. government agreed to send troops under United Nations command to the Korean peninsula, which is smaller than Minnesota. It was the first time forces were sent under a United Nations flag. During the course of the war, about two million U.S. soldiers were sent to South Korea to protect it from the invading North.

From 1950 to 1953, more than 10 million Koreans became separated from their families and four million people were killed. Thirty-eight thousand were Americans.

Despite these sacrifices, the Korean War is considered a forgotten war in American society. Seven veterans in Bloomington, who fought in the Korean War, vividly recall the harsh reality of the war. To them, it is not forgotten, but a hard, bitter, sad, yet proud memory.

Robert Marty

Robert Marty, 86, was drafted Sept. 21, 1950, and sent to Korea in March 1951. Upon arrival, he was trained to use 4.2 mortar. He was in the 7th Infantry Division, 32nd Regiment, Heavy Mortar Company.

Marty was sent to the Hill 1073 near the Iron Triangle, a major battle area from 1951 to 1953. He was involved in major battles when the Chinese were engaging in a massive offense toward the front line. Between midnight and 3 a.m., he said he had to fight as many as 300 Chinese soldiers rushing the hill with bugles, drums and flags.

“Hundreds of them came up the hill,” Marty said. “We had flares to see them. We had to kill them. To us, they weren’t people. We called them gooks.”

In April 1952, he came back to the U.S. Marty worked at J.C. Penney until 1966 and ran his own clothing business in Chicago and New York for 30 years.

Quotes from Marty

“Back in the days, if you really, really cross me, I felt anger to kill you. That was my filling. That was how I survived back in there. If you really get me angry, I felt that I wanted to kill the guy. In fact, that how I survived. The biggest thing was I had to control myself in here.”
“What I have left over there is left over. I tried to forget that intentionally. Part of my life has been gone.”

Robert Motley

Robert Motley, 85, joined the Air Force in 1950. He was sent to Korea in April 1952 and stationed at the 483rd Squadron in the Kimpo airbase in Korea. Motley’s job was financing and accounting for troops. Motley said he remembers how deserted the country was.

“Korea was devastated," Motley said. "Seoul was destroyed completely. There was not many life going on.”

On May 20, 1954, he was sent back to the U.S. Motley remained in the Air Force Reserve until 1975. Through the GI bill, a grant provided to veterans for serving in the military, he graduated from Manhattan College in 1958 and worked at Otis Elevator. He moved to Bloomington in 1965.

Quotes from Motley

““I learned that I need to appreciate no matter what happened in life. You need to live positively. I do not regret that I went to Korea.”

Kenneth Thomas

Kenneth Thomas, 84, joined the Marines in November 1951. He was sent to Korea in mid-1952. Thomas was in the 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine regiment, Baker Company. He used heavy weapons, such as 60mm and 3.5 inch rockets. Thomas fought in the Hill 181, the Hill 161 and other battles until June 1953.

After coming to the United States, he went to IU-Purdue University Indianapolis and earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He went on to work at Otis Elevator with Motley.

Quotes from Thomas

“How was the life at Hill? It was rough. My job was to secure the hills. We stayed at the hills for two months and rotated to just behind of the frontline. There, I could get a shower and receive hot meals and clean cloths. I do not ever remember being in town.”
“It was hard to see losing my friends. I tried not to get too close to them.”

Darrell Hooten

Darrell Hooten, 84, was born and raised in Bloomington. He joined the U.S. Navy on Sept. 24, 1950. After finishing eleven weeks of training, he was sent to Busan, Korea. He became a crew member of the USS Ashtabula, a fleet oiler that refills other ships’ oil.

His missions were exposed to Soviet sea mines, planted by North Koreans. In November 1952, he said his ship was hit by twin explosions caused by acetylene torches, which ignited gasoline fumes in her forward hold while it was in Sasebo, Japan. Three sailors were killed, but Hooten was uninjured. Most of the crew were off the ship during the weekend. After the incident, he was transferred to a destroyer, USS Stickell. He was discharged in 1954 and came back to Bloomington.

Quotes from Hooten

“People were very poor. I had no idea where Korea was. I only heard it from radio. When I arrived in Busan, everything was devastated.”
“I learned that I need to live positively and appreciate everything.”

Joe Maddox

Joe Maddox, 85, joined the army in 1949. He was trained to drive a M46 tank and was sent out to Korea in July 1950 when the war broke out. He was in the 1st Infantry Division, 6th Medium Tank Battalion.

During the early stages of the war, he fought against North Korea’s T-34 tanks and supported ground troops. Maddox said his troops advanced to Pyongyang and even captured most of the Korean peninsula until the Chinese forces began to invade. His troops had to retreat.

“Being in combat, it is horrible. Me and my buddies sat down and said 'What have we done?'" Maddox said.

Maddox served in Korea until 1952, when he came back to the United States. He remained in the army and retired as a first class sergeant trainer for ROTC at Purdue University in 1969.

Quotes from Maddox

“I never even heard about Korea. When I almost arrived at Korea, the enemy was shooting at our ship. We needed to call air force to attack them back. That was my first experience in Korea.”
“After we arrived in Korea, we tracked how many friends who were killed. We lost 112 that we knew.”

James Jordan

James Jordan, 85, was born in Poland, Indiana, and drafted on Oct. 4, 1951. In June 1952, he was sent to Korea. Jordan was a rifleman and a sniper at 25th Infantry Division, 27th Regiment, Item Company, 2nd Platoon.

He was sent to Heartbreak Ridge, where one of the hardest hill battles occurred during the war.

“On Heartbreak Ridge, we were so close to the enemy, so the enemy could set up a radio station to broadcast a propaganda message to us," Jordan said. "They even sometimes played American Rock n’ Roll music every night. I was miserable. I was in homesick every time I listened this music.”

On Sept. 27, 1952, Jordan’s eye was wounded by a mortar round at Bloody Ridge, and he was sent to Japan for treatment. He spent three months there before returning to the fight in Korea. On July 1, 1953, he arrived back in the U.S. and was discharged Oct. 4 of the same year.

Quotes from Jordan

“Our platoon leader, second lieutenant Wing, was killed during the skirmish battle on Aug. 8, 1952. The reason I remember that particular time and date are I was supposed to be on the patrol, but somehow I did not go. Lieutenant Wing was from Burbank, California. He was only 22.”
“The most heartbreaking thing was watching devastation of the land. I saw two grown Korean men fighting each other just to get a slice of bread. They were hungry and starving to death. Kids wearing lightweight clothing without any shoes, zero degrees. They should not deserve that. You cannot believe what I saw."

John Davis

John Davis, 88, was sent to Korea in May 1951. He was involved in major hill battles, such as Hill 717, the highest hill located on the north of the 38th parallel.

“The hill was called 717," Davis said. "Our job was to take the hill back. We spent a day a side of the hill. A little after the daylight, we started to attack. We threw grenades. When we crossed the ditch, there were dead bodies. Some of them were dead a few days. It was a pretty mean and pretty scary thing.”

Davis said he still remembers his company commander ordered him to kill three female civilians during a mission to either bring back or wipe out anybody in between his company and enemy. The interpreter went up and told any civilians to come out. Davis and his company commander walked to one shack. They found one pregnant and two wounded women. His company commander ordered to him to throw grenades. Davis refused to do it, but someone else obliged and killed the women. He was wounded by mortar fire in September 1951 and was sent back to the U.S.

Quotes from Davis

“Our company commander said to me to throw the grenade to them. I said back, 'Why don’t you pull the pin and throw?' And he said, 'Are you refusing a direct order?' I said, 'Yes.' One other guy said, 'I will do it Sergeant.' So he threw the grenade. One woman was pregnant and the others were hit their legs by the 50 cal. The legs were full of maggots. They were killed. Why? Because the commander thought that they were interrupting the battle. He could not trust them.”