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Veterans remember 'the forgotten war' at memorial park

TAMPA — He left when she was 16 and wrote her letters from the USS Quincy on the other side of the world.

It was spring 1951.

Then, his monthly Navy salary was $118. Then, he slept in a 5-inch turret. He shelled Korean trains traveling along the coast. He forged lifelong friendships. He dreamed of Pennsylvania, and her.

His orders were switched the first time he tried to come home, so he had to stay in Korea. He had planned to propose to her. So, instead, he sent her a tiny ring in one of his letters, asking her to marry him.

She likes to joke that, after 62 years of marriage, he never technically proposed, never officially got down on his knee. Now, they live in Valrico, their home of 21 years. Now, he uses a wheelchair, his home for the rest of his years.

Seeing the Korean War memorial at Saturday's annual remembrance brought this flood of memories back to Harry Stewart, 83, and his wife, Jeanette, 80.

Another 100 or so veterans and civilians gathered alongside them at Veterans Memorial Park for a commemoration ceremony and reflection on what is often called "the forgotten war."

For several veterans, the idea of the Korean War getting lost in history is painful.

"That was my war," said Irwin F. Dawley, 83.

"Thank you," said the wife of one veteran, "for saying thanks."

"It sometimes seemed they fought in obscurity," said Linda Pugsley, a retired Air Force chaplain, "but that does not lessen their fight."

Harry Stewart doesn't understand why the Korean War was called "the Korean Conflict."

"We had the same violence and destruction in our war as any other war," he said.

After Korea, he moved back to Pennsylvania. But other than the occasional night terror, the war became an afterthought. He spent the next 31 years working for Sunoco as a lab technician, then moved to Florida in 1992.

He thinks Hillsborough County has done "a tremendous job" helping residents relive what really happened. Fifty-six young men from Hillsborough County died during the Korean War. Their names are engraved in one of two major memorials at the park, forever remembered.

Eddie Ko, chairman of the Korean War Memorial Committee, told people at the event not to forget these brave veterans.

"Touch their names and tell them thank you for your service. Tell them, 'You are heroes from our town,' " he said, pausing for effect. "They'll like that."

After the ceremony, Jeanette wheeled her husband over to the memorials. He looked at one with "The Forgotten War" scrawled across the slab.

"It's beautiful," he said. He started sharing his memories, resting a short distance away from the memorial.

Asked if he wanted to touch the memorial, Harry Stewart shook his head.

"I think I'd like to look at it from afar," he said.

Contact Zack Peterson at zpeterson@tampabay.com. Follow @zpeterson918.

Veterans remember 'the forgotten war' at memorial park 07/26/14 [Last modified: Saturday, July 26, 2014 9:24pm]

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