It is often called our "forgotten war," but the fortitude of the men who fought in the Korean War and the positive longer-term result of their effort will be highlighted at this year's Bully Bullhead celebration at Ruthven.
Merry Helm, a movie scriptwriter, historian and researcher from Fargo, N.D., will speak the evening of July 10 at the Ruthven American Legion Hall. Helm has completed the first volume in what will be a three-volume series. Titled "Prairie Boys at War," her effort presents the war in the words of the men who fought it. She selected the title for her work from her observation that a disproportionate number of the men who fought in the war came from farms and small towns of the Midwest. She thought Ruthven would be an appropriate place from which to launch her book tour.
She has done exhaustive research, studying battle maps and unit records, but her effort is not a dry research tome. She has interviewed hundreds of men who did the fighting in the war. One of those she interviewed was the late Ralph Frederick from Ruthven. Frederick and another young man from Ruthven, Marvin Moran, were involved in one of the major battles of the war. In this battle, two men were awarded the nation's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor. One, a Sioux Indian from Wahpeton, N.D., named Woodrow Wilson Keeble, was in the same unit as Frederick and Moran.
After World War II, Korea was divided into northern and southern sections. North Korea aggressively sought to topple the South Korean government. It infiltrated South Korea and established cells of support anticipating an eventual invasion. It launched a full-scale attack on June 25, 1950. North Korean forces were equipped with Soviet tanks and artillery and South Korean forces were quickly overrun. American troops were thrown in, but were ill-equipped, as our forces had been rapidly demobilized after the end of WW II and funds for training had been curtailed. It appeared our forces might be thrown back all the way to the sea.
However, with great courage and ingenuity, American forces were able to slow the rapid advance sufficiently to establish a strong defensive position called the Pusan Perimeter. Under the brilliant leadership of Gen. Walton Walker, American forces held on. A daring amphibious invasion was put ashore at Inchon, near the South Korean capital of Seoul, and North Korean forces were quickly in headlong retreat. It appeared the war would be over by Christmas.
American and United Nations forces advanced to within a few miles of the Manchurian border. Chinese forces in overwhelming numbers entered the battle. Allied forces were pushed back into South Korea. A long grinding ordeal was ahead.
When Frederick and Moran arrived in Korea in June, 1951, they were assigned to the 19th Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division. This division was one of the first units to be sent into Korea. A counterattack was launched and American forces pushed northward.
In October, 1951, American and Chinese forces clashed in a major battle. In this battle, Frederick was wounded and he also saved another wounded man while under fire. He was recommended for the Silver Star, but never received the award. Men who fought in the battle and were wounded would not receive their Purple Heart medals until decades later.
When the 19th Regiment was relieved, two men from Ruthven, Marvin Rouse and Marlin McCullough, were in the relieving unit, an example of Ms. Helm's premise, that men from Midwestern farms and small towns made up a high percentage of forces that fought in Korea.
Many years later, Ms. Helm helped Frederick learn the fate of the man he had rescued. The man, James Gullett, became an ordained minister after the war. He died in 2001, but Frederick had a chance to visit with Gullett's widow a few days before his own death in October 2006.
We should remember the great contribution made by the men who fought in Korea. No better example of their contribution can be cited than a comparison of the two Koreas today. South Korea is a thriving democracy and an economic powerhouse, while North Korea continues to be a place where freedom does not exist.
The event at Ruthven will start at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Ruthven American Legion Hall. A chili supper will be served. A freewill offering will go to support the community's Freedom Rock project.
Helm will be in the area through the weekend, and will be available for interviews and appearances at VFW, American Legion Halls and libraries.
Alan Oppedal is a journalist who returned to his home area of Ruthven after retirement. He has since written two books about rural Iowa.