Saturday, Aug. 5, 1-3 p.m., Behringer-Crawford Museum, Covington
Ken Harper was sitting in economics classic at the University of Kentucky Community College just after Christmas vacation in 1951 when a classmate walked in and said, “I got my draft papers.”
When class ended, Harper walked down the street and joined the Air Force. When he arrived home that afternoon, his own draft papers were in the mailbox.
Harper, who now lives in Crestview Hills, Kentucky, was one of thousands of young men who went from student to soldier, from Kentucky to Korea, without a lot of planning or preparation. It was the start of the Korean conflict, wedged between World War II and the Vietnam War, which came to be known as “the forgotten war” because it received relatively little attention over the years.
In recognition of those who served, Behringer-Crawford Museum is presenting “Korea: The Forgotten War,” an exhibit documenting the roles veterans from Northern Kentucky and Ohio played. These personal war stories shed new light on a tumultuous and little-known period in American history.
A public reception is planned for the Saturday opening. All veterans and their spouses will be admitted free; veterans’ families will be admitted for half-price.
Among others featured in the exhibit is Jerry McCandles of Campbellsburg, Kentucky. Two months after he graduated from high school, McCandles enlisted in the Marines and was sent to Parris Island, then Camp Pendleton, for combat training.
“I was still a naïve kid, and it was exciting to think that you were getting to go and fight,” he said. “It didn’t quite occur to me that they were going to shoot back. I got to go home on leave before I went overseas, and it dawned on me … what happens if they shoot back and you get killed? I knew then I’m ready … I’m ready to go overseas. I’m ready to die.”
McCandles survived the war, but 35,000 other Americans did not. Despite the deaths, injuries and emotional toll, Americans returning home from Korea were not greeted with cheers and accolades. Instead, they said, it was almost as if their war experiences never happened.
When Ed Kleir of Ludlow, Kentucky, returned from Korea to his job at Coca Cola, it was like he had never left. “It was no big deal,” he said. “You came home, and you fell back into where you had been. People said, ‘Hey, haven’t seen ya for a while, where ya been?’ Korea. ‘What were ya doing over there?’ And that was the end of the conversation.”
Today, more than 60 years later, veterans of the Korean War, their loved ones and many in their communities haven’t forgotten the bloody conflict that lasted three years (1950-1953) and ended without clear resolution. For them, the conversation continues.
As Patrick Ruttle of Crescent Springs, Kentucky, said, “I’m very proud of what I did. It did shape my life. I’d be overdoing it to say the word thrilling, but it was to us so meaningful. We worked hard at it.”
“Korea: The Forgotten War” features recorded interviews, diaries, photographs and artifacts loaned or donated by Korean War veterans and their families. Also included is a miniature statue of Thomas Dehne, a Marine from Newport, Kentucky, who was a model for one of the 19 full-size statues in the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The exhibit is on display through Oct. 1. It is open during regular museum hours and is included with museum admission.
859-491-4003 or www.bcmuseum.org