By Jimmie Ferguson
Killeen Daily Herald
Born in 1949 in Korea, Sang-Yil Lee was just a toddler when the Korean War broke out June 25, 1950, and lasted until July 27, 1953.
Friday evening, Lee, now the associate pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Killeen, was at the annual Texas Department of Korean War Veterans Association Conferences banquet at the Howard Johnson Hotel in Killeen.
Dressed in his U.S. Army uniform, the 55-year-old former captain thanked the American veterans who threw him C-rations back in those difficult times.
Korean War veterans from all over the state of Texas, along with their loved ones and Korean natives, filled the hotels ballroom to recognize the American veterans who gave so much in this conflict that became known as the Forgotten War.
Now, they call it the forgotten war, because we dont like to talk about it, said retired Sgt. 1st Class Albert Gonzales, who was at the rank of private first class and an interrogator during the Korean War. I dont know why, but we just dont talk about the war in Korea.
You ask them, and they dont want to even remember, said Gonzales, the judge advocate for the Don C. Faith (Medal of Honor) Chapter 222 of Killeen that is hosting the two-day event.
Gonzales, who served in the war from 1951 until its end, was talking about veterans like retired Col. Joseph C. Rodriguez, a Korean War Medal of Honor recipient.
Rodriguez said he doesnt talk about what happened May 21, 1951, because it was so fast and the actions of any of the men with him that day could have been worthy of the highest medal awarded in combat.
You can ask any Medal of Honor recipient, and they will tell you the same, said Rodriguez, who was also the banquets guest speaker.
During his presentation, the retired colonel stayed away from his combat action but praised his fellow comrades and the attending Koreans on their relationship today.
Gonzales was also referring to retired Command Sgt. Maj. Ed Maunakea, 84, of Killeen.
In fact, Maunakea, who served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, doesnt like talking about what he went through in either of the wars.
Theres too much bad memories, said Maunakea, as he noted a bitterness for his experience in the Korean War.
They let me get captured, said Maunakea, who was a POW for two years and two months.
Maunakea couldnt talk about it any more and walked away.
Gonzales said he recently learned how Maunakea became a POW.
He said Maunakea, who was a first sergeant at the time, and his men were receiving heavy gunfire from the enemy, and they ran out of ammunition.
They saw these American tanks across the river from their location, and they started running towards them, Gonzales said. As the guys in the tanks were looking at them running for help, they drove off, leaving them to be captured by the enemy.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Roy Miller, 80, of Katy; and former Sgt. 1st Class John Jackson, 73, of Houston said the gathering was also a long-awaited opportunity for them to vent their war experience with old comrades who endured the same hardship.
Its more cathartic when you get around these people who have been through some of the same experience that you have been through, Miller said. You hear their stories, and you can tell them your stories. It truly gives vent to the feelings that have been held back so long. It lets you know you are not the only one in this world. It truly builds you up and gives you more stamina to go forward.
Jackson, who was a sergeant first class during the Korean War, said they were forgotten so long that they forgot themselves.
Jackson said he was anxious to join the Houston chapter of the Korean War Association when it began in 1991.
When I gather with my fellow brothers as a veteran, its reminiscing of the time that we went to Korea to fight a war for some democracy for some people that we did not even know and come back to the United States.
As a black man, it really did hurt me, because then I had to come home and fight for my democracy for myself which I did not win, Jackson said.
The observance will continue at 10 a.m. today, when retired Maj. Gen. Choi Seung Woo of South Korea will present the Republic of Korea Service Medal and a certificate to those Korean War veterans or their widowers who have not received it for their patriotism and service in the Korean War.
The presentations will take place in the ballroom of the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
Contact Jimmie Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org