Those who served

North Korean nuclear ambitions bring back war memories for vets

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The tension between North Korea and the United States over North Korea’s nuclear program brings back memories of cold winters and battles for local veterans who fought in the Korean War.
“I do have a lot of memories,” said Lloyd Pitman, 76, of Preble. “That country is terribly cold in the winter,” said Pitman, an Army veteran. He said the winter of 1950 was especially cold — the coldest in 50 years.
Pitman, who fought in the war that lasted from June 1950 through July 1953, recalls one man had a thermometer and recorded temperatures of 30 to 40 below zero.
“It was not a comfortable sleep in the foxhole,” said Pitman, who returned home with permanent damage to his feet from frostbite. “We had more injuries from the cold than from bullets.”
“I froze my feet,” said Carl Merihew, 79, of McGraw, who said he still suffers from the damage to his feet.
Pitman said in the 1950s there were many people in the cities who suffered from hunger, which still afflicts much of the country’s population.
“Those people can’t be trusted. I think our country had better be on the alert and stay awake,” said Pitman, calling the North Korean leaders vicious. “If they perfect it, they might use it,” Pitman said of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. He feared they could even use them against the United States.
Merihew, an Army veteran, agreed the North Koreans could not be trusted.
“When we left there was nothing there,” he said. He said when the Democrats were in power, North Korea got the material it needed to build a nuclear power plant, but it instead used it to build nuclear weapons. He does not think the situation will improve with the recent Democratic takeover of Congress.
“I doubt talks will work for them,” Pitman said of current negotiations with North Korea. He said if the country were offered money to stop production, it would likely take the money and put it into weapons development.
“In the past we spent millions of dollars to give food in North Korea, but they took all the food and fed their army,” said Pitman. He said he belongs to the national Korean War Veterans Association that sends out magazines periodically and three or four years ago in one of the magazines a serviceman was featured who returned to North Korea.
“It (the magazine) showed the city I was in and the buildings and streets looked exactly like they did in the ’50s,” said Pitman. He said pictures also showed malnourished children.
Pitman said the coast of North Korea should be blockaded, everything shipped in or out should be inspected and anything that could be used to make weapons of mass destruction should not be allowed into the country. He said military action should be a last resort. “Our troops are scattered all over the world,” Pitman said.
John Carbona, 76, of Cortland, said he served in the Army in 1951 and was training to go to Korea, but ended up in Europe because Gen. Dwight Eisenhower wanted more troops to fight the Cold War threat from communist Russia.
“It is kind of worrisome,” he said of North Korean and it’s possession of nuclear weapons. “I’m not sure if we have anything to worry about now,” he said, noting the North Koreans do not appear to have the weapons fully developed.
He also said he thinks most countries have learned from history that nuclear weapons should not be used — the atomic bombs dropped on Japan and the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in the former USSR.
Pitman said he plans to attend a Veterans Day ceremony today at the War Memorial in Syracuse with other Korean War Veterans. “I always have participated,” he said, noting the shrinking pool of active veterans.
Pitman said an older brother of his was killed in France during World War II. He had two other brothers who fought in World War II who are now deceased.
“Veterans Day is just a day to say thank you,” said Carbona, who serves as the Veterans of Foreign Wars chaplain of Post 2354 in Cortland.
Veterans Day since 1954 has been a day to remember all war veterans. Originally it celebrated the end to fighting in World War I between the Allied nations and Germany, which occurred on Nov. 11, 1918, at the 11th hour.