Illinois Guard Veterans Recall Korean War
By Adriana Schroeder
Illinois National Guard
SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Jun. 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.