KOREA: Forgotten only by some
by Sherrie Norris
Ending 60 years ago on July 27, 1953, it may be considered "the forgotten war" by many, but Buchanan is among those who will never forget the Korean War.
"Few are familiar with it," he said, "because it came soon after the 'big' war -- World War II."
There was virtually no TV news reporting on the Korean War, as in later wars, Buchanan said, and there has been little media coverage since the war.
"The objective of the war was not victory over an enemy, but the restoration of peace and freedom for the people of South Korea whose country was invaded by communist North Korea at the direction and military aid of Joseph Stalin of Russia," he said.
The intensity of the war is reflected in the cost of lives of those who fought it, Buchanan said.
"In three years, the United States forces alone had more than 33,000 soldiers killed in action and more than 103,000 wounded in action, with more than 8,000 missing in action or captured," he said.
Buchanan's reason for sharing his story now is simple, he said.
"It is my hope that some young person will be inspired to learn about the Korean War," he said. "The fact that the sacrifices of United Nations countries, especially the U.S., allowed the citizens of a country to live in peace and freedom and to prosper, as South Korea has, should be a source of pride to every US citizen."
Buchanan served in Korea with the Reconnaissance Company of The Second Infantry Division, which was attached to the 38th Infantry Regiment at the time.
"Our mission was to run foot patrols in front of the main line of resistance, better known as the frontline, mostly at night, to prevent an enemy unit of any size from approaching, undetected," he said. "The Chinese and-or North Koreans were there almost every night -- and so were we."
From Feb. 15 to March 15, 1953, Buchanan's company of about 130 men experienced 24 casualties.
"Four were killed in action and 20 were wounded, including three platoon leaders," he said.
Buchanan was wounded in the early morning of Feb. 21, 1953, while leading his platoon on a combat mission (as opposed to a reconnaissance mission) near the village of Jun Jon, North Korea.
Following surgery in a MASH unit, he was transported to the 121st evacuation hospital at Yong Dong Po. During the triage process, and while on a gurney at the hospital entrance, Buchanan saw a tall, blond nurse come down the stairs; she came to him, knelt by his gurney, looked at his ID tag, and said, "Lieutenant, can I get you something?"
Having gone without solid food for several days, he asked for a sweet cookie.
"Obviously not a Southern girl," he said, "she broke out in laughter, kissed me on the cheek and said, 'I will be your sweet cookie.' Every time she came by my room, she brought a sweet cookie."
A few days later, Buchanan was evacuated by air to the 155th Army General Hospital in Yokohama, Japan, where he had a second surgery to his back.
Upon release from the hospital, he was assigned as executive officer of HQ Company at the US Army School on the island of Eta Jima in the Inland Sea of Japan.
"It's where we prepared soldiers for duty in Korea," he said.
Where it all began
Buchanan was born March 6, 1929, in the Rutherford County community of Union Mills, grandson of a country doctor.
He had just entered a management program with JCPenney in Augusta, Ga., when North Korea invaded South Korea.
Deciding to join the service, he enlisted in the Army and was admitted to an officer candidate program after completing "a tough infantry leadership school."
After graduating from Infantry Leadership School, Buchanan served as a recruit trainer for about a month, and then was assigned to OCS at Fort Knox at The Armored School, from which he graduated as a second lieutenant in April 1951.
"My roommate and I were assigned to The 82nd Division at Fort Bragg, and I soon received my orders for the far east," he said.
Upon his discharge from the Army in September 1953, he came to Boone and obtained a master's degree at Appalachian State University.
He accepted a management job first with Burlington Industries, and a few years later, with The Southern Desk Company in Hickory.
While there, he was active in civic affairs and served as president of the town's only Rotary Club at the time (1968-69); he co-chaired the United Fund drive, and was president of the Hickory Community Theater, among other civic activities.
Buchanan's first wife, Marian, died in 1969; and he remarried in 1973, a year before his new wife, Harriette, received her doctoral degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
They travelled in Europe for 14 months before moving to Boone in 1977 to raise their son, Ian, in a "less consumer-oriented community," he said.
Harriette joined the faculty at ASU and "I became a house husband," Buchanan said. Ian graduated from UNC Medical School and is employed by UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill. He and wife Marianne have two daughters, Sadie and Tessa.
Buchanan is a lifetime member of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Returning to Korea
With fellow war veterans and wives, Buchanan and Gordon Harris, also of Boone, were among those invited back to Korea in 2010 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War's beginning.
The veterans, joined by some from France, were guests of the Ministry of Patriots & Veterans Affairs, Republic of Korea, which organized tours and events to honor and recognize several groups of United Nations military veterans of the Korean War.
Buchanan said they were treated liked "heroes" and were overwhelmed by the gratitude and love shown by the South Korean people and their government.
"The older Koreans treated us as their children returning home with salutes, long hugs and many tears," Buchanan said. "They also said we looked so old, compared to what they remembered."
Young children bowed and sang for them; top government officials welcomed and recognized them individually at several banquets -- making it clear, Buchanan said, "That we were most honored guests in South Korea. They showed their appreciation for what the United Nations, and the U.S. in particular, had done for them."
Korea is a marvelous new country with an education system and industrial complex that is "world class," he said.
"Their cities, "mostly built from scratch since the war, show expert planning," Buchanan said.
Buchanan and his group were treated to a trip through the country in luxury coaches.
"Everywhere we went, we were given the greatest respect and adulation," he said. "When we stopped at traffic lights, people on the street corners waved, saluted, bowed and cheered."
They visited the Korean War Museum in Seoul, as well as several places "where decisive battles were fought and impressive monuments erected," he said. At Heartbreak Ridge, the veterans each placed a flower on the monument to those who died there.
The group was honored at several "highly impressive" demonstrations by the ROK military, including a re-enactment of the battle of Chip Yong Ni, where the enemy suffered a bitter defeat, he said.
"Thousands were there, including many top ROK military officers and government officials," he said. "We were escorted through a long line of cheering civilians and military honor guards to a site on a hill overlooking the place where the battle actually occurred."
The re-enactment was so realistic, Buchanan said, "that it was a little uncomfortable." His group was also shown defenses that tourists and even Korean civilians don't see -- "the heavy stuff," he said. "It was a wonderful trip that we will never forget."