Herald/SARAH MOORE KUSCHELL - Ralph Sheffield dances with his wife, Debbie, during the Korean War Veteran’s Association Banquet at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center on Thursday.

By Sheena Williams

Killeen Daily Herald

Alberto Gonzalez remembers the evening more than 50 years ago when he scanned the shadows of the night with his weapon in hand.

As he sat in his bunker far from home, he recalls hearing things and nervously watching a bush move closer to his position. Gonzalez recounts the details of his experience in the Korean War as if it happened yesterday, but admitted that back then he would have never envisioned himself, decades later, sitting at the Korean War Veteran's Association Banquet on Thursday in the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.

The military musical selections performed by the Heights Concert Band set the tone for the guests who came to honor the sacrifice of the war's veterans and retain the history behind the "Forgotten War."

Supporters, veterans and those who have familial ties to the war attended the event.

Fred Shin, president of the Austin Traffic Signal Construction Co., said that although he didn't fight in the war himself, he feels a great deal of gratitude to the veterans of the association.

"My uncles fought in the Korean army alongside the American Army so these veterans will always be our friends," Shin said. "They came to my country and sacrificed their young lives and gave everything that they could offer, so this is the least I could do. I feel obligated to help them as much as I can because of their noble sacrifice."

Maureen Jouett, banquet organizer and a member of the association, said that the event will help fund the organization, which plans on continuing to spread patriotism while allowing sacrifices of the past to be commemorated in the future.

"Without any funds, we can't do anything," Jouett said. "A lot of our members take trips to the veteran's hospital as volunteers and with the rising gas prices, we've had to subsidize for the gas they burn just getting up there. This event will also help fund a Korean War monument that we're trying to create for the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery.

"So through this banquet, we're not only trying to get the word out about our organization and honor our veterans, but we're also trying to sustain our association so we can continue to give back," Jouett said.

Gonzalez served 26 years in the U.S. Army and admitted that even though he was initially nervous about fighting in the war, he would do it again if he had the chance.

"We went into it as good-looking kids with heads full of hair," Gonzalez said with a smile. "But after you get baptized in fire, you come out a man. So although it was tough at times and I was drafted, I didn't just want to get it over with and go home.

"When you were there, you were a team and even if you lose, you want to come back as a team. But for $65 a month, we fought and were wounded, died and got divorced and we don't want that to be forgotten. I don't want to be forgotten."

The group of 49 veterans and supporters plans on hosting another banquet next year, and Gonzalez predicted it will be much bigger than this year's. He said that although members aren't as young as they used to be, the group is going to make a difference in the community.

"I think veterans have a lot of talent that nobody knows about," Gonzalez said. "Yeah, we're old, and some of us can't hear too well or walk that good, but we're set on making a change."

Contact Sheena Williams at sheenaw@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7553.

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