Pueblo vet remembers well the Forgotten War
Gale: ‘South Korea exists because we went to defend it’
The Korean War is sometimes called The Forgotten War, but not by Dan Gale and those who fought it.
“I’ve never forgotten it,” the 84-year-old Pueblo man said in that careful way that underlined each word. “I feel a deep sense of satisfaction today. South Korea exists because we went to defend it.”
The three-year war on the Korean Peninsula — from June 1950 until July 1953 — never had that sense of national purpose that characterized World War II. The Korean War was given short shrift even in its name and was sometimes called a “police action,” although it was every bit a war to those in it.
And it didn’t end in victory, but a stalemate, a negotiated cease-fire that exists to this day.
Gale sees it differently, though. Korea was where the U.S. and other members of the United Nations tried to act on the principle of the many defending the few in the cause of stopping aggression and war. Adolph Hitler and World War II had driven home that lesson.
“The U.N. response to the invasion of South Korea was what we hoped would happen,” he said. “I believed in it.”
In Korea, Gale was an officer in an engineering battalion with the 6th Armored Division. Originally from Pennsylvania, he’d had a smidgen of Army service at the end of World War II and then went on to become an ROTC student at the University of Colorado.
When North Korea attacked South Korea in June 1950, Gale was at an Army summer camp. He remembered Army Gen. Mark Clark calling together a large group of young officers to break the sobering news of the sudden war. Gale understood that, sooner or later, the Army would send him to Korea.
“I owed Uncle Sam for my education. I was as prepared as I could be,” he said matter-of-factly.
In Korea, Gale’s unit was assigned to an area near Pusan, close to the southern coast. The North Koreans had cornered U.S. troops in that region in the early months of the war, but Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur broke that siege with his surprise landing of U.S. troops at Inchon, on the other side of the peninsula.
Rather than be trapped, the North Korean forces had retreated rapidly north with MacArthur in pursuit. When the combined U.S. and U.N. troops pushed the North Koreans back to the Yalu River, that country’s northern border with China, the Chinese army attacked, tipping the balance again and forcing MacArthur to retreat back to the 38th parallel, where the war began in 1950.
Gale doesn’t tell combat stories about Korea. He talks about Korea’s industrious people and how the experience changed him. South Korea was an ox-and-cart society suddenly engulfed in the most modern of wars.
He’d voted for Democrat Adlai Stevenson II for president in 1952, but was ultimately glad that former Army Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican, won the White House — and brought the war to an end with a negotiated cease fire.
“Ultimately it took a man of war to bring the peace,” he said.
When Gale got back to Seattle, there was a convention of state governors in town and the Army was trying to find Korea vets to ride in the homecoming parade. Like many a returning war vet, Gale dodged the hand-shaking and ticker-tape and headed home instead.
Gale came back to Colorado to a teaching career in Pueblo’s School District 60, but stayed in the Army reserve. Which is how he returned to active duty in 1962 and went on to serve two tours in Vietnam in a combat engineering battalion.
His demeanor changes when he talks about Vietnam. That sense of purpose that had given him satisfaction in Korea somehow bled away in the long fight in Vietnam.
“We’d been warned about what was happening in French Indochina (Vietnam) at the end of Korea,” he said. “I tried to stay out of the politics of it.”
Gale teared up at the memory of some friends. South Vietnam did not survive the war. It was swept away by North Vietnamese forces in 1975, after nearly all U.S. troops had been removed.
But he is grateful the nation is remembering the Korean War on the 60th anniversary of that cease-fire. He notes that two of Pueblo’s Medal of Honor recipients — Carl Sitter and Raymond “Jerry” Murphy — received their medals for bravery in Korea.
“We should remember what we accomplished in Korea,” he insisted. “Absolutely.”