Veteran Vince Blundi still gets a tear in his eye when he recalls being on a boat heading toward Korea.
"When I first saw that ‘dot’ called Korea in the distance, I asked myself if I was ever going to go back home," said the 75-year-old.
It was 1951, and Blundi was a replacement soldier docking at Inchon, a port 22 miles west of Seoul, South Korea.
He eventually was promoted to sergeant in the 44th Engineering Battalion, a support group that built bridges and roads to make traveling easier for soldiers. He served in Inchon, Pyongyang and Seoul, building bridges and roads for American forces.
Often called the "forgotten war," the Korean War began as a U.S. police action in 1950 after communist North Korea, backed by China, invaded democratic South Korea. The United States intervened under the flag of the United Nations. By the time a cease-fire agreement was signed on July 27, 1953, 54,200 American soldiers were killed, 103,300 were wounded and 8,200 were missing.
Today, more than 38,000 American troops are stationed on the North-South border known as the Demilitarized Zone.
Blundi, of the 1000 block of Jackson Street, received word of his discharge in 1953 and was immediately sent to Japan. There, he was put in charge of the barracks and ordered some of his soldiers to clean the living quarters. But they just laughed at the skinny young sergeant. To gain some respect, Blundi had his rank insignia sewn on all of his clothing. At the same time, he asked a seamstress to make embroidered replicas of two parchment maps.
The parchment maps, which are now lost, were documentation of all of Blundi’s travels in Korea. A soldier whose name Blundi has long forgotten gave the sergeant the maps so he could continue to chronicle all of the places the 44th Engineering Battalion went to serve.
The embroidered map features a multicolored outline of the Korean Peninsula. A broken heart (the identification mark used by the 44th Engineering Battalion) is a key to identify cities, towns and landmarks. The text on the map is carefully embroidered in blue thread.
"I have pride in it," said Blundi.
After a half-century of not knowing where the map was, the veteran recently discovered it while cleaning his house.
"It was in a plastic bag in three different houses," he said.
Blundi now displays the map with a black and white picture of himself holding a firearm and a cigarette, and a small gold plate that states: "Vince F. Blundi, 44th Engineering Battalion, Korean War, 1951-1953."
The map will be given to Blundi’s 12-year-old cousin, Nico.
"I want a remembrance of me when I am gone," said Blundi, who has no children with his wife, Anna.
The veteran, a graduate of South Philadelphia High School and business college, ended up spending his career in the military, graduating in 1987 as a computer programmer. He received numerous medals, including the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal and the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation.
Blundi recalls that one of the trickiest tasks for the soldiers was distinguishing the North Koreans from the South Koreans. "You did not know who was from what side unless you had a translator," he said, explaining that the dividing line between the countries also affects dialects.
As a veteran, Blundi said he takes particular interest in certain national issues. A lifelong Republican, he said he now classifies himself as an Independent, particularly since the war with Iraq. Blundi believes the conflict was unnecessary and that U.N. inspections teams should have been given more time to search for weapons of mass destruction.
As a member of the American Immigration Control Foundation, Blundi wants to see tighter security on our borders — the better to protect the nation from terrorism, he believes.
"If over 38,000 troops could be stationed on the Korean border, why not station some of those soldiers on the borders with Mexico and Canada?" he reasoned. "Our borders are so porous. Anyone can get through."