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For the week of Nov. 17, 1999 through Nov. 23, 1999

Veterans remember

Experiences not all bad, but they wouldn’t go back


By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer

At Ketchum City Hall, police officers, city officials and veterans paid homage to 10 Idaho police officers fatally shot since 1994. Ketchum dedicated the new flag pole, located outside city hall, to the slain officers. (Express photos by Willy Cook)

For nearly 80 years since the battling nations of World War I signed their armistice on Nov. 11, 1918, Veterans Day has been an occasion to honor war veterans, and also a day of remembrance of war’s horror.

For some veterans, it’s a day to reminisce about good times, too.

First, they gathered at noon last Thursday at Ketchum City Hall for a Veterans Day ceremony. n17vet5.jpg (10241 bytes)At the same time, Ketchum dedicated its new flagpole in honor of 10 Idaho police officers shot in the line of duty since 1994. At the base of the pole, is a plaque with the officers’ names.

That night, survivors of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts gathered at Ketchum’s American Legion Hall for a traditional Veterans Day dinner.

Star Boy Scout Chris McCarthy served prime rib to Ketchum American Legion Hall president Florence Froelich. (Express photo by Willy Cook)

 

One of those arriving at the hall was Korean veteran John Palmer, 65, of Hailey, who enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was 19 years old.

"I had a ball" hunting Chinese golden pheasant, he said, during his three years serving as a U.S. Army radio operator.

"The hunting was terrific over there," he said, standing beside the words "Curmudgeon Construction" stenciled across the door of his pickup truck.

The South Koreans didn’t have any guns, he said, and he didn’t have any bird dogs, so they cooperated. The local kids ran into the fields to flush out birds. He shot the birds down with his Winchester Model 25 pump-action shotgun and paid the kids with a pheasant each.

There were so many pheasant the "sky would go dark with them," he said. "You didn’t even have to aim. We’d drive back to camp with the whole back of the jeep full of them."

Because he arrived in 1950, after the cease-fire was signed, Palmer said he never saw any fighting. Still, he said, U.S. soldiers had to look out for infiltrators, who would sneak into or near camp and take pot shots at people or sabotage equipment.

Stationed 27 miles north of the 38th parallel, near the North Korean border, Palmer said he was shot at once or twice, but never hit.

"I was quite a bit thinner then," he said. "I was harder to hit in those days."

Nor did he shoot at any North Koreans; but once, he said, he shot and killed a deer from 200 yards away after mistaking it for a dog.

All the soldiers had been commanded to kill stray dogs, he said, because they were carrying hemorrhagic fever.

After the company commander refused to allow the deer to be served in the mess hall, Palmer sold the deer on the black market for a few dollars.

For the most part, "it was a lot of fun," Palmer said of his Korean War experience, but it was not without moments of incredible sadness and images of terrible destruction, too.

Passing through Hiroshima only eight years after the atomic bomb had been dropped was one such moment. He was on his way to Korea for the first time, traveling by train.

"There was nothing but one-story tin shacks as far as the eye could see," he said. "The only two-story building was the new train station."

Perhaps harboring memories of similar images, other veterans Thursday were less willing to speak about their wartime experiences.

Veteran and musical great Jimmy Limes played a medley of military tunes at the Ketchum Legion Hall on Thursday night after a prime rib dinner. (Express photo by Willy Cook)

John Robertson, 78, of Sun Valley, served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. Attached to the 1st Marine Air Wing, he serviced torpedo fighter bombers in New Caledonia and in Guadalcanal, eventually achieving the rank of staff sergeant before being discharged in August 1945.

Interviewed at Ketchum City Hall, he said only, "I didn’t know what I was getting into," of his wartime experience.

For proof, he displayed a pair of oval, steel dog tags in the palm of his hand. The military told him to carry them in case he "got lost." He didn’t find out until later, he said, they were in case he got killed.

John McDonald, 58, served in the Army Aviation Group during Vietnam. Now Ketchum’s postmaster and head of American Legion Post No. 115, he enlisted at the age of 21. He said he was "happy he did it."

But, he added, his experience in Vietnam began with camping in a peanut field while the Army Corps of Engineers built an airstrip and the Viet Cong incessantly mortared their position.

"It was too long," he said of his three years in the military.

Gary White, a police training specialist who spoke at the dedication, perhaps summed up the sentiments of police officers as well as veterans when he said, "We would trade our badges in a minute for a peaceful community."

 

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