The homefront: Korea


(On July 27, 1953 the Korean War ended)

They call it “The Forgotten War.” Nothing worse than to fight in a “forgotten war.” The Korean War dragged on for three years; almost 34,000 American soldiers died in the fighting. Maybe it happened too soon after the shock of World War II and got lost in the aftermath. Maybe the war was overlooked so easily because it became the poster child of the new kind of war — the kind we subsequently faced in Vietnam and later in Iraq — the kind of war where there was no victory and no declaration of war. Some wars end only with exhaustion.

No final peace was ever declared in Korea. No peace treaty is in place, even today. It ended in a declared cease-fire dividing Korea into North and South, separated by a demilitarized zone across the 38th parallel. Not the kind of end that creates ticker-tape parades and the clanging of pots and pans. No photos of an unknown sailor kissing a pretty girl as jubilation erupts around them. When we look back today at the years 1950 to ’53, folks think it was all “Happy Days” and “Grease” — the good old days when things were simpler. Only they weren’t.

I was 15 when the war ended in a stalemate. As silly and shallow as any 15-year-old that one could find. None of our family fought in the Korean War. If there were hardships here at home, I was blissfully unaware of them. We had a political debate in my senior year of elementary school with the upcoming ’52 presidential election. Dwight Eisenhower versus Adlai Stevenson. At Furness Junior High, I debated for Ike. My junior high school reasoning: Ike wasn’t an “egghead” like Adlai. Ike was the hero of the Normandy invasion that helped end World War II. Ike promised to end the unpopular war and bring the troops home. That was good enough for me. I defamed Stevenson as a book-reading, pipe-smoking intellectual without a plan to get us out of Korea. I do not remember who won that debate. Ike won the election. The war ended a year later. Not all of our American troops came home. We still have about 30,000 troops stationed in South Korea some 62 years after that war ended.

Those times are a blur. No chronology to them in my memory. Joe McCarthy bellowing about “Commies” in the State Department. Scared the hell out of my father. He thought the “Commies” were all around us. If there were Communists at high levels of the government, they could be anywhere … some person or persons tried and failed to shoot Harry S. Truman … watching “I Love Lucy” in our living room as Mom stroked my hair — unusual because Mom didn’t believe in all that huggy-kissy stuff … “The Catcher in the Rye” had a curse word in it. Scrambled through the pages just to find it. Excited just seeing the forbidden word in print.

Dave Garroway on “The Today Show,” but who watched television in the morning? Our TV was a three-way Admiral combination with a 12-inch screen. Kids did not have their own television. Hell, you got a radio and a phonograph player for one price. We purchased the TV in ’51. Remember the year because on our TV set, I saw Bobby Thomson hit the miracle home run to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the playoffs at the Polo Grounds. I was a forlorn Dodgers fan. Did not show up around the corner for two weeks afterward…

“Tropic Of Cancer” by Henry Miller, our generation’s dirty book. In paperback. Paperbacks were all considered dirty books back then … “Bring the Troops Home”…The Rosenbergs executed for giving the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Russians. Shrouded in controversy. I wondered, why the hell would they do that?…

Before we got our own television, we watched “The Texaco Star Theater.” Nobody called it that. It was the “Milton Berle Show.” Tuesday nights. Our family took a taxi to Aunt Jenny’s house to watch it. The TV picture was reflected in a mirror of some sort. Sometimes Uncle Georgie Blair placed a plastic multi-colored screen over the picture and presto – we had color TV! Colors were a little off. The grass might be blue and the faces green, but it was color …

Hand-dipped ice cream at Maxie’s at Fifth and Jackson streets. Take out sundaes in our own cereal bowl. Malted milkshakes — if you wanted to take out a malted, you brought Maxie an empty milk bottle. Tastykakes with icing thick and down the sides of the cake … digging Sinatra rather than Elvis …. first full year of the war, the Phillies win the pennant. I’m the only unhappy kid in town — a sore loser — a Dodgers rooter- — decimated by Richie Ashburn’s throw that cut down Cal Abrams at the plate.

Truman fires Gen. Douglas MacArthur. A “haberdasher” fires a war hero. America was outraged. MacArthur wanted to drop an atomic bomb on China. Stop the Chinese before it’s too late. The Chinese troops pouring across the Yalu River. — Looked as if we lost the war before we got our stalemate…

Hanging on corners in South Philly, playing pinball machines for money. Untroubled times? We thought an atomic war with Russia was inevitable. Dad built a bomb shelter in our basement … Rock and roll coming on to save us. 

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