Korean War veteran Floyd Leaver

Veteran Floyd Leaver talks about his experiences serving in the Korean War during a recent at Sioux City's Monahan-Nelson Post 64 of the American Legion. For those who served in the war, Leaver said, the war is anything but forgotten.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY | Floyd Leaver left Sioux City for the Army in 1950 and returned in 1953 after his discharge.

He's been home ever since, proud of his service in the Korean War. He wonders why those who served in the war don't get more recognition. Only once prior to the Journal's current series on Korean War veterans does he remember a public ceremony honoring Korean War veterans, and that took place just a year or so ago.

"It is a forgotten war because it took all these years to get this publication on it. I believe it's been passed over because nobody's ever taken any interest in it," said Leaver, who as a member of the 8th Army, 44th Engineering Division, helped build roads, bridges, hospitals -- "whatever they needed" -- in Korea during his stint in the war.

The Journal named its series "Forgotten War, Korea Remembered," using a moniker placed on the war by media before the conflict was even over. It's a nickname that has stuck throughout the years, especially given that many people know few details about the war.

"Some of them don't know an actual thing about it," Leaver said.

It's odd that a war in which 1.8 million Americans served, nearly 37,000 were killed, more than 103,000 were wounded and another 7,700 are still unaccounted for would be forgotten.

Yet for a number of reasons, the war never really registered with Americans when it broke out in 1950 or in the immediate aftermath of the 1953 armistice that ended fighting.

"Even in terms of military history, it's taught as the war between World War II and Vietnam," said Kurt Hackemer, a University of South Dakota history professor who teaches American military history. "It is sort of out of the public eye in a lot of ways."

Congress never declared war during the three-year conflict, Hackemer said, and the United States didn't mobilize for a war effort as it had a decade earlier during World War II.

For most Americans, World War II was a formative experience, unlikely to be matched. When the Korean War began, Hackemer said, Americans were getting their lives back in order, and the economy was taking off. Without deliberate efforts by the U.S. government to keep the Korean War in the public's eye as had been the case in World War II, the general public had its focus elsewhere. Soldiers returning home from Korea, for the most part, didn't get the grand parades that WWII veterans received.

"There was a sense that they're supposed to integrate quietly when they get back," Hackemer said.

The war also lacked that signature battle or campaign like a Normandy invasion or Iwo Jima. There was no enemy surrender, only a cease-fire that didn't seem to resolve anything. The border between the two Koreas remained roughly the same as it had been before the war, and the communist government in the north was still in place.

The fact there was no clear resolution to the war reverberates to this day, making it important that the Korean War not be forgotten, said Greg Guelcher, a Morningside College history professor who teaches 20th Century world history and modern east Asian history.

"The Korean War is a reality that millions and millions of people continue to live with," Guelcher said. "The Korean War does not deserve to be the Forgotten War. This is a war we should be talking about often because it is still affecting the world today.

"The legacy of the Korean War extends right up to the present."

A peace treaty never was signed, so the war never really ended, Guelcher said. Current North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un's continual testing of nuclear weapons has kept South Korea, Japan and China on edge, uncertain of what might happen next. Add in the presence of 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, and the North Korean government's constant prodding should remind everyone that current events have roots in the 1950s conflict, Guelcher said.

"I worry that Korea and the Korean War will never get its proper due," he said.

Despite ongoing tensions, few people seem to look to the past or make the connection between what happened more than 65 years ago and what's going on today.

"I've been teaching for 25 years, that's almost always the war the vast majority of the class has no exposure to," Hackemer said. "Unless you know someone directly who fought in the war, I think it remains relatively obscure."

Hackemer and Guelcher said that in recent years, Korean War veterans seem to be getting their due as society realizes that these veterans, in their 80s and 90s, are rapidly leaving us.

Leaver, too, has noticed. As he travels to events with fellow American Legion motorcycle riders, people come up to him, see his Korea Veteran cap and thank him for his service. Some will ask about Korea.

Leaver said he enjoys answering their questions, educating them about the long-ago war. For him and others who served there, they still have vivid memories of what the war was about. It's anything but forgotten, as Leaver and all the veterans interviewed by the Journal for this series have made clear.

"You'd never forget that," Leaver said. "You went through a deal like that, and it's never over."

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