They were proud to serve
The familiar strains of “Taps,” played under brilliantly clear skies at Memorial Park Monday, gave Milton “Knute” Knutsen pause to reflect on his quest to ensure American freedom.
A Navy commendation.
Two Purple Hearts.
So many golden and silver medals, in fact, they jangled from his red and yellow Marine Corps League jacket like wind chimes in the autumn breeze.
Peering at the Memorial Wall stenciled with the names of nearly 1,000 of his countrymen reminded Knutsen of his own military experience – a teenager in World War II who grew into a man during the Korean War.
“It was a fun game until the bullets started flying,” Knutsen said of his WWII experience.
“Korea was the worst experience of my life because of the people I lost, the friends I lost,” said Knutsen.
He was one of eight men to receive the Korean War Service Medal Monday. The commendation and pin are given by the government of South Korea to U.S. servicemen who fought in the 1950-53 war.
It is the first foreign medal authorized by the United States to be given to veterans who served in the conflict.
Knutsen said the small medal was a long time in coming.
“I never agreed that (the Korean War) was a police action,” he said, quoting President Harry S. Truman’s oft-repeated refrain during America’s involvement in the conflict.
For Kevin O’Neill, the presentation was especially sweet. His father, Navy carrier pilot John “Tex” O’Neill, died in 1979, long before historians began to re-evaluate the importance of the Korean War.
Tex O’Neill won four Distinguished Flying Crosses. World War II was difficult, but easy compared to O’Neill’s seeing Korean villages destroyed by napalm.
The award, the younger O’Neill stressed, was for a lot more than his father’s memory.
“My mom’s going to love it,” said O’Neill, a member of the Navy.
“She’s pretty much a true veteran’s wife. I did this mostly for her. As she gets on in years, she gets more nostalgic.”
The day was for more than just those with white hair and silver beards waxing about battles won and lost. Family members packed the park several rows deep with lawn chairs and blankets, many colored red, white and blue.
“It’s good to see all the people out here, and not just veterans,” said Bob Carton, commander of the Vietnam Veterans of America Post 535. Carton flew 173 missions in an F-4 Phantom, mostly over North Vietnam. His name’s on the wall, too, “just because I won’t be here forever.”
Like many of the 60 Nevada County men who belong to the post, and some of the attendees Monday, Carton has mixed feelings about the conflict – and war in general – that he may never resolve.
“What happened in the Vietnam War was the politicians ran it instead of the admirals and generals. But if you ask if I’m proud I served, you’re damn right, yes I was.”
WHERE TO APPLY FOR KOREAN WAR MEDAL
People who served in the Korean War are eligible to apply for the Korean War Service Medal, a rare foreign commendation recently approved by the U.S. government and given by the government of South Korea.
Veterans who served in the conflict between June 27, 1950, and July 27, 1953, can apply by calling the local Veterans Service Office at 273-3396 for more information.
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