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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 07 2013

Veterans of ‘Forgotten War’ remembered at Fargo event

FARGO – Sixty years gone, the Korean War still holds a grip on Sid Erstad.

The 85-year-old Ada, Minn., man got to Korea in 1952 and was an infantryman with the 5th Regimental Combat Team.

Erstad was one of about 100 Korean War vets honored Sunday at the Fargo Air Museum for their service in what has been called “The Forgotten War.”

But for Erstad, and others like him, it won’t be forgotten. It can’t be forgotten.

Just 10 days before fighting halted and an armistice signed, Erstad’s outfit was in a bitter fight to take a hill called Outpost Harry, he said.

“It was rough,” said Erstad.

The hill was turned into a burned and cratered waste, he said. “The enemy wanted it, and we wouldn’t let ’em have it,”

Scores of Americans died taking and holding that hill, he said.

Erstad, then 25 years old, was rotated out of the action and was in a truck moving away from the fighting when an enemy artillery round hit the vehicle in which he was riding.

He came to in a ditch, being worked on by a medic. Then he looked to the side, and saw one of his buddies shudder and die.

“I can’t get over a 20-year-old gunner, Ben Bowen from Illinois, died right alongside of me,” Erstad said, a hitch in his voice and his eyes growing moist.

He was discharged in 1954. And since, he made a good life. Steadying himself, he talks about his 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Then last year, he was reading a story about a soldier dying in Afghanistan, and the horror of Korea returned.

The dead soldier looked just like Bowen, he said.

“I couldn’t get over it. I was in the middle of my living room, bawling my head off,” Erstad said.

Lyle Usgaard, himself a Korean War vet, said it is that sort of sacrifice, and countless others, that need to be remembered.

Usgaard, 80, said the area’s World War II and Vietnam War veterans got their ceremonies. Sunday was the time for the Korean War-era vets.

“I think this is going to help people remember the veterans,” he said.

The Korean War was fought from June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops poured south across the 38th Parallel, to July 27, 1953, when an armistice was signed. Estimates put the death toll as high as 4 million from the conflict.

More than 36,500 Americans died, 128,650 were wounded, and nearly 5,000 remain missing.

Rick Olek, a Vietnam veteran and master of ceremonies for the event, said it’s time the Korean War vets got their due.

“You’re no longer forgotten in this community,” Olek told the vets and their families and friends.

The two-hour event included patriotic tunes, speeches by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and J. Brian Hancock, the chief of staff of the Fargo Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Each Korean War vet also got a commemorative medallion that came with a handshake and salute from fellow veterans.

No peace treaty has been signed to officially end the Korean War. For decades there has been an uneasy peace along the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone between North Korea and South Korea. But that’s been made tense by recent threats of war by the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

Usgaard isn’t too worried about the bluster.

“I personally don’t think North Korea is going to attack, unless they are dumber than I think they are,” he said.

But the thought of another war on the Korean Peninsula worries Erstad.

“I know we have the best military in the world,” he said, but “you hate to see any of them die.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583