El Campo Korean War veteran recalls signing of armistice 60 years ago

MEMORIAL SERVICE

WHO: Guest speaker Victoria County Criminal District Attorney Steve Tyler

WHAT: Korean War Memorial Service

WHEN: 9 a.m. Saturday

WHERE: Korean War Veterans Monument, Green Belt Park, East Mockingbird Lane at Vicksburg Drive, Shenandoah subdivision

INFORMATION: 361-575-8343 or 361-573-2853.

KOREAN WAR

• 1,789,000 - Total U.S. service members who served in Korea

•  103,284 - U.S. wounded with injuries that were not life-threatening

•  33,739 - U.S. battle deaths

•  2,835 - Other U.S. deaths in theater of war

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

KOREAN WAR DEATHS FROM VICTORIA

• Blackley, Jr., Vinner Eugene, 20, Army

• Cantu, Arturo, 28, Army

•  Casillas, Manuel Garza, 22, Marines

• Davis, Louis Hudler, 29, Army

•  Gonzales, Rudolpho Valentino, 19, Marines

•  Goodman, Jr., Richard Lance, 24, Air Force

•  Hill, Carl L., 22, Army

•  Lopez, Larry Cantu, 20, Army

• Marling, Leslie K., 20, Navy

•  Priddy, Marvin Bruce, 21, Marines

•  Solis, Adelaido Mata, 19, Army

• Tibbit, Gerald Keith, 23, Marines

• Trevino, Jr., Agustin R., 21, Army

•  Villarreal, Pedro Garcia, 21, Army

• Wilson, Jr., Charles Louis, 22, Army

SOURCE: CONTRIBUTED BY PETER RIESZ FROM VARIOUS SOURCES

Charles Petersen documented well his time during the Korean War.

Petersen, who worked as a driver during his 16 months in the Army, found time to take photographs and write about his experiences while serving in Korea.

He was present at Panmunjom on July 27, 1953, when the armistice was signed, stopping the fighting in the Korean War.

A native of El Campo, Petersen's memory of his time in Korea is vivid, aided in part by several photo albums and hand-written stories from that time.

One of those memories he didn't capture on film came during a prisoner exchange as a North Korean truck laden with South Koreans backed up toward waiting American soldiers.

"A little South Korean boy, about 6 or 7 years old, stood up on the tailgate of that truck and spread his arms out like an eagle," recalled Petersen, 81.

"He yelled as loud as he could as he jumped through the air, and the American soldiers caught him. He was now free in his own country.

"That little boy will never forget that."

And Petersen will never forget his service. As a driver, he often had wait time.

"I always seemed to have my camera with me and sometimes would have time to write a little while I waited," he said.

A 1951 graduate of the now-defunct Crescent High School in Wharton County, he had verbally committed to volunteering for the Air Force when his induction letter from the Army arrived.

"I was 21 when I got to Korea the first week of May in 1953," he said.

Working initially as a truck driver, Petersen hauled ammunition and fuel to the troops on the front line.

As the war began to wind down, he was transferred to the motor pool for the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission.

"I mostly drove officers," he said. "I got to see a lot of Korea."

The day before the armistice was signed was business as usual, Petersen said.

"We had heard the fighting was going to stop that night, but we didn't really believe it," he said.

"At about 9:55 p.m. all the big guns stopped firing. The sky turned black. It wasn't on fire any more."

The armistice was signed at 10 a.m. the next day.

He doesn't compare his homecoming to the homecoming that Vietnam War veterans received, but Petersen says his was still disappointing.

"When we were boarding the ship to leave, there was a band playing as we walked up the gangplank," he said. "I was on cloud nine. I was going home."

But "home" was less than receptive, Petersen remembered.

"When we got to Seattle, there was no band playing; not one person was there to greet us. I couldn't believe it," he said.

"We just walked off the ship and got on a train. The people on the train didn't hardly talk to us," he said.

Petersen, who had previously worked for the Texas Department of Transportation before the war, went back to work for TxDOT after he returned.

He retired after logging more than 33 years with the state.

Petersen said taking part in the war in Korea was important to stop the spread of communism at the time.

"Korea was right between China and Japan. We needed to win that war," he said.

When he returned to Korea in 2005 for an observance of the 55th anniversary of the start of the war, Petersen and his fellow veterans were greeted warmly.

"The Korean people couldn't thank us enough," he said. During his visit, Petersen received a medal from Park Yu-Chul, minister of the Korean Ministry of Patriot and Veterans Affairs.

Petersen has a program from the ceremony during his visit with a copy of Chul's speech.

In ending his remarks that day, Chul said, "We know that thanks to the blood and sweat you and your friends shed on this soil, Korea became a country of freedom and democracy."