In their own words, often tearfully and always emotionally, Wisconsin veterans recount their stories of a war that was sandwiched between pivotal events in global history, resulting in its often-mentioned monikerthe "Forgotten War." Yet, to the Korean War veterans, it is anything but forgotten. That passion came through in back-to-back, hour-long programs that aired on Wisconsin Public Television (WPT). Wisconsin Korean War Stories premiered in 2006, but both "Part One: Invasion" and "Part Two: Stalemate" can still be viewed online with RealVideo.
"Still 8,000 prisoners that are unaccounted for, 56,000 dead. There are a lot of people who don't realize how bad the Korean War was. It was a terrible war. It's the most forgotten war," says Chet Kesy of Mosinee, who was in the 7th Division Artillery.
The three-year Korean War came five years following the protracted conflict that was World War II and less than a decade prior to the Vietnam War. It was fought in a country just about two times the size of Wisconsin and marked a "hot" engagement in the Cold War.
Wisconsin Korean War Stories explores that time through the eyes of those who lived it. Producer Mik Derks conducted 50 interviews for the project, talking with veterans all across the state and from the various branches of service.
Historical images, maps and film from the period also evoke the war. It was a time when America was relieved to be done with the tyranny of World War II's Hitler and the horror of kamikaze pilots. The nation, in many ways, turned away from the bloodshed over a political systemcommunismin an Asian country far from home in a war that was not even called a war, but a "military action" fought to a ceasefire, not a clear-cut conclusion.
The WPT programs explore themes on the personal level, including the camaraderie of the soldiers and the code of support.
"I gotta go in after you but same thing happens to me; they're gonna come in after me. I took a lot of comfort in that," says Marine Ray Hendrikse of Monona, speaking of his experiences at the infamous battle at the Chosin Reservoir.
These soldiers felt they wouldn't surviveand many report not wishing to talk about their experiences until now.
The programs also probe themes of larger-scale, geopolitical maneuvering and disagreement between President Truman and his armed forces commander. This had ramifications for soldiers on the battlefield as Gen. Douglas MacArthur drove north against Truman's orders, prompting the entry of China and thousands of Chinese troops into the war.
Overall, says Stewart Sizemore, a Marine who left occupied Japan after World War II to fight in Korea, "We were there to delay (until more troops arrived). We were buying time with blood. That is what it amounted to." Sizemore now lives in Lake Geneva.
Wisconsin Korean War Stories was produced as a partnership of the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) and WPT, in association with the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.
In addition to the broadcasts, the project includes an extensive Web site at wisconsinstories.org, a traveling photography exhibit, curriculum for use by state teachers and a coffee table book to be published by WHS in spring 2008.
Funding for Wisconsin Korean War Stories is provided by the John and Carolyn Peterson Charitable Foundation, the Krause Foundation, Joseph and Patricia Okray, John and Sherry Stilin, Duard and Dorothea Walker and the Okray Foundation.
Wisconsin Public Television is a place to grow through learning on WHA-TV/DT, Madison; WPNE-TV/DT, Green Bay; WHRM-TV/DT, Wausau; WLEF-TV/DT, Park Falls; WHLA-TV/DT, La Crosse; and WHWC-TV/DT, Menomonie-Eau Claire.