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thedrifter
07-03-05, 06:26 AM
Hey, Brokaw: What are we? Chopped liver?
By Wallace B. Eberhard, Special to the Times
Published July 3, 2005

Memo to Tom Brokaw: How about you do your next book on A Very Good Generation? Namely, those who served faithfully during a less popular war, the Korean conflict, from 1950-53?

I am, of course, prejudiced. I've just returned from another reunion with comrades who put their lives on the line in the brutal last six months of the Korean conflict.

We first met on a cold January day in 1952 in Fort Sill, Okla. Two hundred of us were members of Officer Candidate Class 17. I was the youngest at 19. The oldest, naturally dubbed Pop, was 28. Six months later, on June 17, 90 of us became second lieutenants of field artillery, part of that branch of the U.S. Army which, George Patton once said, won the war - the Big One, that is.

It was assumed all of us would go to FECOM - Far East Command - where the war had raged since June 1950. Except that Ma Eberhard's youngest son, along with others from our class, was sent to bolster NATO forces in Europe staring down the Red Army across borders from the Baltic to Italy.

Those in Korea faced a difficult six months. No one presses a former GI to tell about life under fire, but my classmates who survived the combat leading up to the July 27, 1953, armistice now open up about those experiences without much coaxing. Army artillery played a critical role in establishing what has come to be known as the DMZ - the demilitarized zone that still separates the two Koreas. They were there, and they are proud of it.

Close calls were the order of the day. Artillery lieutenants often live with the infantry, calling in fire where it's needed. Classmates were wounded, captured, asked to hold crossroads with their howitzers, run fire direction centers. The usual.

One friend fought his way out when his battery was overrun. Another was captured and later repatriated. Another was called up from the relative safety of a bunker behind the lines as the cease-fire neared to duty as a forward observer calling rounds into communist positions in the last hours of the war. The Chinese, predictably, fired back, causing him to wonder whether he would be the war's last casualty or make it home safely to Mississippi after all.

Most of us opted out at war's end when the Army cut its force level, but some became career officers. One retired as a two-star general (he still looks the part). Others were colonels and lieutenant colonels. Two count service in three wars. They earned Purple Hearts, Silver Stars, Distinguished Service Medals and who knows what else. We also become farmers, teachers, lawyers, architects, journalists and geologists, parents of Special Forces team leaders, Navy officers and (in my case) a West Pointer who flew Hueys in Gulf War One.

We are among more than 5.7-millions Americans mobilized, enlisted or drafted during the Korean conflict period; 1.7-million served in Korea itself. As far as we know, no one in our OCS class was among the 33,741 battle casualties (82 percent of them from the U.S. Army). Thousands are still listed as missing in action.

Although the Korean conflict may go down in history as the "forgotten" war, the three years of bloodshed stemmed the North Korean invasion and put South Korea on the road to becoming a democracy and an economic giant in the Far East. And, the Russian army didn't cross the border while we were on duty. All in all, it's an argument for A Very Good Generation.

Our reunions are mellow affairs, held wherever someone is heroic enough to be the organizer and leader for three days of tourism, belly laughs and shared recollections. It's a kind of family reunion, based on bonds built surviving the climb to earning gold bars.

Brokaw would have liked our convention this year, and we were so intent on having a good time we didn't think to invite him. We met in Rapid City, S.D., which must be somewhere near where he was born in that state full of buffalo, rangeland and memorials carved out of mountains. The gathering was a kind of family reunion, full of touring, laughs and shared recollections. Next year, San Antonio.

But, like Brokaw's World War II Greatest Generation, we are disappearing from our planet at a rapid rate. Just a few days before we gathered, we learned that Mort Kasman, a television producer who carried around a new heart for the last years of his life, had left us. In the pressure-cooker of OCS, his New York wit and sarcasm gave us a lift. We remembered him with anecdotes and a moment of silent reflection on the life of a good soldier-citizen.

So, here's the offer, Tom. For a good time and a start on your next book, join us in Texas next year.

- The author is a former journalist and emeritus professor of journalism at the University of Georgia. He retired from the Army Reserves at the rank of colonel.

Ellie