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Due given "Forgotten War' soldiers

Veterans of the Korean War were given a well-earned but belated celebration at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8698 in Inglis this weekend.

Well-earned because of the combat duty and war wounds; belated because it came 43 years after Armistice Day stopped the shooting.

"We're happy to do something for the veterans of the Korean War," VFW post commander David Finley said. "It comes 43 years too late, but I can't take the blame for it. I was too young then."

Finley is a combat-wounded veteran of the Vietnam War, in which he served on an underwater scuba team similar to the Navy SEALS.

Many veterans feel that the public acts as if the war did not exist. It has been referred to as the "Forgotten War," even though 56,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in about four years.

On Saturday, the Inglis VFW paid its respects to those soldiers during Korean Vets Appreciation Day.

About 150 people, including about 15 Korean War veterans, showed up for the covered dish dinner and dance. Patriotism ran strong, and some participants wept as the national anthem was sung. The veterans wore T-shirts that bore their Korean War affiliations, and some wore their military service caps.

After dinner, pool, games and dancing commenced, and some Korean War veterans reminisced.

Merritt McPhee and Clyde Kirkland knew the fighting would be tough when their unit, the Army's 24th Division infantry regiment in Japan, got the first call to go to Korea in late June 1950.

"I was fighting communism. I didn't like it and understood that's why we were sent there," McPhee said.

McPhee was wounded during combat. Shrapnel from an exploding shell tore through both his legs. He said his brother lost an eye in Korea.

For Kirkland, of Inglis, going to battle was "just a job."

"I wasn't a draftee, I was regular Army," he said. "When you sign up, you take it for granted that situations are going to come up and you'll be sent to take care of it."

Kirkland remembers being pinned down on a beach in 1952 by the counterattacking Chinese and Korean armies. He was firing a .50-caliber machine gun.

Recently, Kirkland heard that the body of a U.S. pilot was returned from Korea. From the body's location and news accounts of the fighting, he said he believes the pilot was involved in the same battle 44 years ago.

For some veterans, Saturday's party was the only recognition of their service they had ever gotten.

Rudy Freyman of Inglis was aboard the Navy destroyer Henry W. Tucker from 1950 to 1954. He saw combat duty in Korea.

"I was an enlisted man and I wanted to go. But it seemed to me people forgot about us, forgot there was a war going on. We didn't get any parades. Nothing. This is the first time I've ever been honored for serving," he said.

Freyman said he bore no grudges, and he savored the one benefit Uncle Sam gave him.

"I bought my first house with the GI Bill," he said.