Upper Arlington News

Field of Heroes

Local veterans recall service during Korean War

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The Korean War often is referred to as the "Forgotten War," but for local veterans who served in the conflict 60 years ago, the people, places and events remain etched in their memories.

Leslie "Bill" Guess, an 83-year-old Upper Arlington resident, spent 15 months fighting on the infamous 38th Parallel after being drafted into the Army in 1951.

Guess recently shared photos and stories from his time in Korea.

"It was pretty wild there. They were dropping bombs" as U.S. troops arrived on the shores of Korea on Japanese boats, Guess said.

He can remember the names of those he served with, where they were from and what they did before they were soldiers.

He showed pictures of soldiers cleaning up in the sink that Guess, a carpenter before entering the war, fashioned.

Guess pointed to tent tops poking out from among trees. Bulldozers excavated land to create hiding places and foxholes for the troops to shelter from bombs and artillery attacks, he said.

Before returning home, Guess' arm was fractured by ricocheting debris in a mortar attack.

"That was not a bit unusual. That was an everyday thing," Guess said of the injury. "After the first month or two, you get used to (attacks) and you hardly pay attention to (them).

"I came awfully close to getting killed two or three times, but that was pretty usual."

Guess said he served in a unit of 150 men, with different faces coming and going during his 15 months of service.

He doesn't know what happened to many of the men, as the Army superiors gave soldiers no information when one of their fellows would disappear.

"They came and went," Guess said. "You never knew if a guy was killed or injured."

Even as it was being fought overseas, the Korean War seemed forgotten at home in the United States, said Clifton Davis, a Worthington resident who was drafted in 1951 at age 19.

An Air Force recruiter showed up on Davis' doorstep, encouraging him to join up, stating that he would receive a draft letter from the Marines the next day and should choose the Air Force instead.

"I will never forget that night. I had a date that night," Davis said. "They said, 'There is a war in Korea; you'll be sent.' I didn't pay much attention to it before then.

"I went to a party, and two days later, I was on a troop train."

Davis stuck with the Marines, and after training, he was sent to Korea in August 1952.

Like Guess, Davis served on the front lines of the war and can share stories of the men he served with and the dangers they faced.

Nestled in the hills, the Marines faced attacks from infiltrators and "potshots" from snipers, Davis said.

"I'm fortunate I survived," he said. "Everything happened so damn fast, it was almost like a blur."

Westerville resident Don Schmidt faced a different kind of service during the war.

A member of a Navy Air anti-submarine squadron, Schmidt served as navigator in flights over the Atlantic Ocean, taking pictures of Russian fishing fleet vessels and reporting their positions.

"They had guns mounted on them. They were really war vessels in disguise," Schmidt said.

Even away from the front lines, the war meant danger to those who served, he said.

Schmidt said he served with men who didn't make it home, and he recalled a bad landing in which a pilot overshot a runway, slamming on the brakes and reversing the propellers to avoid an accident.

"That brings home how dangerous it can be," Schmidt said. "At that age, you just shrug it off. You're invincible."

Returning home from their service, Guess and Davis said they faced a cold reception.

"When we got off the boat in Washington, they booed us," Guess said.

Davis said his friends grilled him for having served in a war they couldn't support.

"We got ridiculed," Davis said.

All three men said, regardless, they're grateful for the time they served in the military and the paths it set them on when they returned home.

"I'm glad I went. I'm glad it's over with. I'm glad I survived," Davis said.

Now, as veterans the men said they receive warm words from many they meet.

"Someone at Kroger thanked me for my service, and I said, 'That was so long ago,' " Davis said. "I realized it was over 60 years ago."

Schmidt said people now are quick to offer their thanks when they hear he's a veteran.

"When you get introduced as a veteran to people, they really don't care what war you were in. They thank you," Schmidt said.

Davis, Guess and Schmidt were honored for their service in the Korean War at last weekend's Field of Heroes display and event in Westerville.

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