Utah veterans of the so-called “Forgotten War” remember and hope for peace
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – As leaders of North and South Korea work toward a formal end to the Korean War, Utah combat veterans are hopeful for long-term peace and reunification.
The events this week bring back a lot of memories for a Utah Marine from Roy who fought in what became known as “The Forgotten War.” He has worked tirelessly in recent years to make sure none of his comrades are ever forgotten.
“If it will do away with communism, and that mindset, it would be a huge thing,” said John Cole, who served with the 1st Marine Division.
“That’s why I say, I hope. I hope it’s true. I hope it happens.”
For six decades, Cole wondered whether the battles they waged and the comrades they lost made a difference.
“I hope that something can be done to turn the corner for this thing,” said Cole, who came home with three Purple Hearts.
“I was wounded three times, and I don’t remember any pain from any of those wounds because the cold was the most important thing.”
Cole and the 1st Marine Division fought in the month-long Battle of Chosin Reservoir, one of the most savage in American warfare.
“They had one of the coldest winters in 100 years,” he said. “Everything was frozen: your food, your water, your weapons.”
One night, as Chinese soldiers swarmed their foxhole he fought for his life, face to face with the enemy. Cole was on his hands and knees looking for an ammunition clip, when the first soldier attacked him.
“A guy come over that rock with a knife in his hand,” Cole said. “I grabbed his knife arm and pulled him off balance, and he kind of fell off the rock. I took that clip, of eight rounds and I buried it in his throat,” killing the enemy solider, he said.
He pulled the dead enemy off of himself and set the body aside because he knew more would be coming.
“Here came another guy with a knife.”
Cole disarmed that Chinese soldier and killed him with his own knife.
“I looked up, and there is a bayonet coming over top,” he said.
As he grabbed the bayonet, “He pulled the trigger on his rifle, and blew a hole in my arm,” he said pointing to the scar on his right arm. He was able to disarm the soldier and slit his throat with his combat knife. Then Cole went into shock.
“I thought, ‘I’m gonna die,'” he said. “My tongue was swelling up. I couldn’t talk I couldn’t do anything I couldn’t move.”
He survived, and became one of “The Chosen Few,” the name adopted by the surviving veterans of that brutal battle.
“I’ve buried all of that,” Cole said. He told me, he kept those memories scabbed over so that they don’t bother him.
“I used to have bad dreams about it,” he said.
More than 3,000 allies died in that battle, thousands more were injured, many with severe frostbite.
“It would be so great if what we did would wind up with the whole peninsula of Korea being Korea again,” he said.
In 2013, Cole discovered South Korea wanted to honor America’s combat veterans with the Ambassador of Peace Medal. He led the effort in Utah, with hundreds of Utah veterans receiving that medal. The names of all 141 Utahns killed in the Korean War are etched in the Korean War Memorial in Memory Grove.
“I’m hoping now there will be enough level heads to recognize the need for unification. It may not happen in my lifetime,” he said. “But, if it happens, maybe it’s all worthwhile.”
He says that would bring him peace.
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