At this weekend’s Memorial Day celebration at Woodward Park, much of the attention was directed to Vietnam veterans as well as the fallen in the Global War on Terror.
Vietnam veterans came out in large numbers, but veterans from the “forgotten” Korean War were also present. Each of them had a story to tell.
One of Manteca’s Korean War veterans is Corporal Abel Martinez, now 86 years old. Martinez recalls joining the Marine Corps in 1947 at the age of 16. His mother had to give permission for his enlistment. Martinez was promptly whisked away from Corpus Christi to boot camp in San Diego.
Three years later, Martinez was among the first U.S. servicemen in Korea as part of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines. He was among the Marines that took part in the famous landing at Inchon in September 1950 which struck behind the North Korean Army. The actions by Marines at Inchon turned the tide of the war and led to the recapture of Seoul, the South Korean capital.
That November Martinez’s unit took part in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir where the Chinese army struck in force against the Marines, once again shifting the tide of the war. The Marines had to fight their way back to South Korea. Contending with both fierce attacks by the Chinese and subzero temperatures, the 2nd Battalion was especially hard hit and barely escaped the area intact. It is understandable that Martinez mentioned little about this arduous battle.
As if Martinez’s situation wasn’t bad enough, with one day left in his enlistment, President Truman froze discharges from the military. He would be in Korea for three years, almost the entire length of the conflict.
Martinez and the 7th Marines intermittently returned to the front lines in Korea, fighting through the tense stalemate of the war’s final two years. The unit experienced many more battles, including the defeat of a final North Korean attack days before the armistice.
Around the same time, another Manteca resident had his own war experience. Staff Sergeant John McGinnis was drafted into the Army in 1952 after being turned down by the Marines because of a bad eye. McGinnis, now 84, served with the 361st Combat Engineers. He remembers travelling throughout Korea, what he described as “a fluid type of situation.”
Another Manteca resident, Staff Sergeant Ralph Cleghorn, served in Korea for a year and was lucky enough to choose his assignment with the Air Weather Service at the 5th Air Force Headquarters. On Memorial Day he worked at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6311, helping other veterans. He and others from the “forgotten war” especially need to be heard.
Peacetime veteran Ernie Anaya has sympathy for them.
“Korean war veterans, they were totally forgotten” said Anaya.
Abel Martinez’s family was more than grateful for his opportunity to speak about his service.
Beyond the hardships of service, each Korean War veteran found something to be grateful for. Cleghorn, who enjoyed his service, learned how differently people live in other countries. McGinnis said he gained an “appreciation of coming back home to the best land on Earth.” Abel Martinez is thankful for his time in the Marines. “I think every young man should spend time in the service,” he said. He recalls how his service transformed him. “They turned me into a man,” Martinez said.