July 27 marks 60th anniversary of end to Korean War

Eighty-one-year-old Jim Vitali remembers exactly where he was on July 27, 1953.

"I was in the Kumwah Valley fighting the Chinese when we got the news," the Cuba, Mo., native said.

The news spreading through his Army field artillery unit was that the Korean War was about to end.

"I still have the paper they had us sign. It stated that there was going to be a cease fire at 22:00 hours. We couldn't believe it," Vitali said.

It was hard to believe that the Korean Conflict was about to end, said Vitali, because he and thousands of other American troops had been in an 11-day, 11-night non-stop battle with the Chinese.

"We were told to stand by until we were all clear," he shared."You can imagine the feelings. It was so quiet it scared you after being in the midst of an 11-day battle.

Vitali told his story to the Rolla Daily News at a recent meeting of the Rolla Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association.  The group of more than 50 veterans meet once month to share lunch and take care of business at the Knights of Columbus Hall off Highway 72. The Rolla chapter was started by Army veteran Les Burris in 2002.  

Interestingly, Burris is a Bronze Star Award honoree for his heroic action in Korea in 1950. He was asked by his tank commander to take out an oncoming series of tanks which he and his bazooka crew did successfully.

The agenda for the group's July meeting included an update on sick or hospitalized members. They also discussed matters as it related to the Korean War Veterans Association at the state level and national level.

One such event is an upcoming Honor Flight which is a free daylong trip to Washington, D.C., where veterans will visit a number of war memorials.

More than 325,000 U.S. soldiers fought in the war which began with North Korea's invasion of the South in June of 1950. Forrest O'Neal was a 19-year-old Marine stationed at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina.

"I was somewhat anxious when I found out that I was headed off to war," said O'Neal.

He cannot forget the bitter cold winter he spent with his corps in the Chosan Resevoir.

"We were involved in setting up security at around 5,000 feet. I can remember it being at times 30 degrees below zero," he said.

When the armistice ending the war was signed, O'Neal had already been sent home. He was digging ditches in Columbia, Mo.

"I was glad to hear it was over," said O'Neal. "I was happy the men that I knew could come home like I did."

O'Neal along with a handful of other veterans have been guests of honor each year at Rolla Junior High. They spend time in several classes sharing their war stories and helping the students get a better understanding of what the Korean War was all about.

The Korean War has often been dubbed the "Forgotten War" because of the lack of public attention it received both during and after the war. However the men of this area's veterans association are quite proud of their service to their country and the world and they should be.  

"For 60 years, the South Koreans have kept their freedom," said O'Neal. "It's because of our intervention and that is something that we are proud of."