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Korean War vets remember start of conflict

TAMPA — George McMaster remembers it all.

That last glimpse of the United States as he sailed off to war. The subfreezing temperatures of winter in North Korea. The seemingly endless supply of Tootsie Rolls that helped keep him alive.

"It's always been called the Forgotten War," said McMaster, 82. "Of course, it will never be forgotten by those who served in it."

On Saturday, dozens gathered to commemorate the 62nd anniversary of the start of the Korean War with a ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park east of Tampa.

McMaster, who served in the Marine Corps Reserve from 1948 through 1952, recounted his experiences at the Chosin Reservoir.

"We had no helicopters, no armored vests. We fought with World War II weapons and WWII rations," said McMaster of Brandon. "It was a very violent war."

The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, and lasted three years. More than 33,000 American troops were killed and 100,000 wounded, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Today, more than 7,500 soldiers remain unaccounted for.

Donald Denny, 80, knows he could have been among the lost.

Denny spent 27 months as a prisoner of war in Korean war camps. On Saturday, the Army infantryman recalled the grueling tasks and near-starvation he endured.

"POW camp is not like a prison here," said Denny of Clearwater. "I could do prison here standing on my head."

The ones who survived, Denny said, often grew up poor like him. When there was food to eat, it was often only sorghum, peanuts or cracked corn. Every morning, the prisoners were forced to recite the Chinese national anthem in Chinese.

"Talk about degrading," he said. "But if you want to eat, you do things like that."

Denny made it a point, though, to push the guards to the limits.

"I gave those people a hard time from the day they captured me until the day I was released," he said.

He's thankful he made it out alive. It's the soldiers who were left behind that still haunt his mind.

"With a little place like North Korea," he said, "it's ridiculous they won't let us back in there to get them."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2442.

Korean War vets remember start of conflict 06/30/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 30, 2012 9:39pm]
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