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Ceremony honors state's Korean War veterans

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Robert Wilmoth said he had to re-read it three times when he first saw that a day of honor was being held for Korean War veterans in Charleston.

"I just couldn't believe it," said Wilmoth, who served in the war in 1950, when he was 17. "I'm happy they're finally acknowledging it was a war. We have truly been forgotten."

Wilmoth, of Ivydale, disarmed enemy mines and worked with demolition warfare techniques during the war.

"It was hell on earth," said Wilmoth, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"When he came back home, no one was there to even shake his hand or thank him," said Wilmoth's wife, Lucille. "No one recognized what they did for our country."

U.S. Navy Cmdr. John O'Brien traveled from the Pentagon on Saturday to honor West Virginia's Korean War veterans with an array of the state's military personnel during a ceremony at the war memorial at the State Capitol Complex.

O'Brien travels the country with the Department of Defense's 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee to ensure that people like Wilmoth are rightfully recognized.

"We will work tirelessly to make sure the American people never forget your courage and heroism and your continued selfless sacrifices," O'Brien told the audience of veterans outside the war memorial. "'The forgotten victory is truly one worth remembering.'"

Saturday marked the 62nd anniversary of the United Nations' 1950 amphibious invasion of South Korea at the port city of Inchon -- a turning point in the Korean War.

Since June 25, 1950, when North Korean communists invaded democratic South Korea, the North had overrun the South's capital city of Seoul and had pushed overwhelmed South Korean and U.N. troops southward toward the city of Pusan, South Korea's largest port. By August and September, reinforcements were arriving at that port inside the "Pusan Perimeter," and the forces facing the North were growing stronger.

To end the North's weeks-long assault on Pusan, U.N. forces under the command of U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, swept around North Korean troops by sea and landed in their rear, at Inchon, more than 100 miles north of Pusan. Within two weeks, Seoul had been recaptured, U.N. forces had broken out of the Pusan Perimeter and were advancing northward, and the North Korean invasion of the South was effectively halted.

More than 100,000 West Virginians served in the Korean War, and 1,400 were killed in action, said Keith Gwinn, Cabinet secretary of the state Department of Veterans Assistance.

"Sometimes, as history passes, we forget how we got here today. Sixty years have gone by, but we want future generations of West Virginians to always remember what you've done for them," Gwinn said. "People say we should move on -- I don't think so."

Veterans were presented with certificates of appreciation at the event, which was organized by the West Virginia National Guard and other groups.

"What strikes me most about Korean War veterans isn't just the significance of their actions in a foreign land, but their actions when they returned home to a country struck with depression," said Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of West Virginia. "They maintained their faith in a nation that failed to recognize them."

Hoyer said that since al-Qaida terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, Korean veterans have always been there to see off soldiers overseas and welcome them home.

"There has never been a single event that these Korean vets haven't been there," he said. "When I asked them why they were so dedicated, they said without hesitation, they didn't want them to go through what they went through when they came home years ago."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at Mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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