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April 05, 2016

Living history

Students learn about the Korean War from those who fought

veterans at a table
“War is hell. And all of us have gone through that,” Korean War veteran Olgerts (Ogy) Sniedze (center) tells students in Dahpon Ho’s class on the history of the Korean War. “And here we are, thank God.” Sniedze is joined by (from left) Francis Stefano, Loyd Kilbury, and Dick Kern—all members of Rochester’s Korean War Veterans Association.

The Korean War is sometimes called “the forgotten war” in the United States, a conflict often overshadowed in popular memory by World War II and the Vietnam War. But it’s far from forgotten by those who served.

“It was an experience that I would never want to go through again, but I wouldn’t give it up for the world,” said Richard Kern, who fought with the 17th Field Artillery in Korea from 1951 to 1953. Last month, Kern and six other veterans from Rochester’s Korean War Veterans Association shared their experiences with students in Dahpon Ho’s class on the history of the Korean War.

students with professor and veteran
Maureen Lamont ’16 (left) and Christina Rutherford ’16 talk with Roger Hill, Rochester Korean War Veterans chapter commander, and Dahpon Ho, assistant professor of history.

“The men you see before you—they survived, they made it, they were there. And not everyone can say that, because there were so many good men who didn’t come back,” Ho, an assistant professor of history, told the class. “I just really want you to take a moment to think about how special this is, that we have them here with us today sharing their voices.”

Ho is using a number of innovative teaching methods in the class, including an extensive simulation of postwar Korean history, with half the students playing South Korea and half the North. The students are given creative control over the creation of pieces of propaganda embodying the beliefs of their respective side in the conflict.

The Korean War started on June 25, 1950, when North Korean military forces crossed the 38th parallel. President Harry Truman committed American troops to the battle just days later as the lead combatants on behalf of the United Nations. The American government never declared war in Korea, and the conflict was officially referred to as a “police action” until  2000, when President Bill Clinton changed its formal designation to that of a war.

Roger Hill, who served from 1951 to 1953 as a sergeant in the Army and is now the commander of the veterans’ group, said most soldiers didn’t know what to expect when they arrived in Korea.

“When we went in, we were your age. We were 19 years old,” he told the class. “When you got there, there’s oxen pulling carts, and the whole country is devastated. There’s nothing. So you look around and you say, ‘What the hell are we doing here?’ And, ‘Why are we here? I don’t understand this.’ ”

By the time the war ended in 1953, more than 35,000 American soldiers and more than three million Koreans had been killed. Although “forgotten” by some, the war’s legacy continues; for example, America has a permanent standing army today in part because the nation was on a peacetime footing and unprepared for conflict in 1950. “Hopefully, you and the professor will take away that stigma that’s been attached to us as a forgotten war,” Frank Nicolazzo, who served with the 45th Division from 1952 to 1954, told the students. “It is not a forgotten war for all of us here.”

Many students, among them international students from South Korea and China, stayed after class to speak with the veterans, with some expressing personal gratitude for the sacrifices made by American soldiers. “Thank you so much for your service. If not for your service, I would not be here,” said Se Hoon Kim ’16, a South Korean citizen who has recently been inducted into the U.S. Army.

The veterans were glad to share their memories. “It looks just great to see these young faces of what’s coming up behind us, so we can see that ‘it paid,’ ” said Kern.

men in battle in Korea

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