USA — Illinois Guard Veterans Recall Korean War

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., June 24, 2010 — June 25, 1950, marked the start of the Kore­an War, some­times called “the for­got­ten war.” Six­ty years lat­er, Amer­i­ca is remem­ber­ing those who served and those who were lost.

“A bleak and dis­mal place,” is how retired Illi­nois Nation­al Guard Lt. Col. Don Sneed of Litch­field described his time in Korea in 1952.

Today’s Illi­nois Guard mem­bers know that their mil­i­tary lin­eage is linked to their pre­de­ces­sors’ Kore­an-War exploits of more than a half-cen­tu­ry ago.

“We salute the Illi­nois Nation­al Guard Kore­an War vet­er­ans and hon­or them and all Kore­an War vet­er­ans for their com­mit­ment to coun­try, and indi­vid­ual courage and sac­ri­fice,” said Army Maj. Gen. William L. Enyart, the Illi­nois adju­tant gen­er­al. “The Kore­an War is often referred to as the ‘for­got­ten war,’ but I can assure you that the war is not for­got­ten by those who wear the uni­form today; many of whom have served or are still serv­ing on the Kore­an penin­su­la.”

Fif­teen Illi­nois Nation­al Guard units and their sub­or­di­nate com­mands were called to fed­er­al ser­vice dur­ing the Kore­an War. Mem­bers of the largest unit, the 44th Divi­sion, board­ed trains to Camp Cooke, Calif., in the win­ter of 1952. The divi­sion includ­ed about 7,000 sol­diers from 78 towns around the state.

After weeks of train­ing, the division’s mis­sion changed from com­bat readi­ness to train­ing com­bat replace­ments. Called to serve as fillers for oth­er divi­sions, thou­sands of sol­diers from the 44th Divi­sion found them­selves on land­ing craft, des­tined for a coun­try they would not soon for­get. Leav­ing behind a young wife and infant child, Sneed was one of these men.

Plucked from the front lines in the Kumh­wa Val­ley, Sneed worked as a tac­tics instruc­tor for the 25th Division’s 14th Infantry Reg­i­ment.

“I would not take any­thing for the expe­ri­ence,” Sneed said. “There were good days and bad days.”

On one of the worst days, he received news he lost a cousin on Heart­break Ridge, a famous bat­tle fought in the hills of North Korea, just north of the pre-war bound­ary known as the 38th par­al­lel.

After the war, Sneed con­tin­ued to serve in the Illi­nois Nation­al Guard with the 33rd Division’s 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 123rd Field Artillery, in East St. Louis and with the 66th Brigade in Decatur. He retired in 1982.

The 1903rd Engi­neer Avi­a­tion Bat­tal­ion out of Chica­go was the only orga­ni­za­tion that went as a whole unit to Korea. Sta­tioned near Pusan, the 1903rd kept vital run­ways repaired, con­struct­ed much-need­ed build­ings, and installed elec­tri­cal lines, plumb­ing and refrig­er­a­tion equip­ment in many areas. The engi­neers received a Pres­i­den­tial Unit Cita­tion and were com­mend­ed by the Kore­an gov­ern­ment with a parade in their hon­or for the much-need­ed repairs the sol­diers made in the local com­mu­ni­ty in addi­tion to their main mis­sion.

Oth­er Illi­nois units par­tic­i­pat­ed in large-scale maneu­vers. The 184th Med­ical Com­pa­ny from Chica­go served in Ger­many and engaged in an exer­cise called “West Wind,” while the 170th Fight­er Squadron in Chica­go was involved in “Long­horn.” Both exer­cis­es sim­u­lat­ed atom­ic and chem­i­cal attacks.

Army Lt. Col. William D. Mid­dle­ton, assis­tant chief of staff for the 44th Divi­sion dur­ing the Kore­an War, spoke with pride dur­ing his 1952 brief­ing to Illi­nois Gov. William Strat­ton.

“While most indi­vid­u­als of the 44th Divi­sion viewed the alert with con­ster­na­tion, it was with a grudg­ing pride that we came to duty as we real­ized that the 44th had been called because it was one of the best,” Mid­dle­ton said. “If I may appear boast­ful, I will say that we knew we were good and were proud that the Depart­ment of the Army rec­og­nized us as such. I think I can speak for the com­mand when I say that. Few of us desired active duty, but all of us were will­ing to do our duty as a Nation­al Guards­man in times of emer­gency.” Mem­bers of the Illi­nois Nation­al Guard were sent to Korea, Ger­many, and France, and they served from Cal­i­for­nia to Mass­a­chu­setts. Even though the Kore­an War began 60 years ago, expe­ri­ences are still fresh in the minds of those who served.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)