62 years after the armistice: Remembering the 'forgotten' war in Korea
BOLIVIA, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Sixty-four years ago two unknown soldiers pulled a critically injured Cpl. Kenneth Bellamy to safety.
It was Feb. 14, 1951, and the Supply native and his comrades in L Co., 9th Infanty Regiment had been pushing for days toward the Korean city of Wonju. With daybreak came the realization their position was surrounded by enemy forces. A heavy firefight ensued, and when all else failed, the soldiers fought hand to hand. Bellamy and others managed to scramble into troop carriers brought by a recon unit. Escape, he thought, was within reach when a bullet pierced the vehicle and bore through Bellamy’s thigh.
It was then when those two unknown soldiers pulled him from the carrier and dragged him to safety.
More than five decades later, Bellamy remembers vividly his 11 months in Korea from his home in Bolivia.
“On Feb. 14, we were surrounded and that’s when the Chinese came out and they slaughtered us,” he said Tuesday on the precipice of the 62nd anniversary of the end of America’s involvement in the Korean War. The conflict formally ended when an armistice was signed July 27, 1953.
He never found out who his saviors were on that Valentine’s Day so many moons ago, but “I always wondered, because I wouldn’t have made it out if it wasn’t for them.”
While the Korean War is often called the Forgotten War, Bellamy and thousands of other veterans can’t help but remember. The horrors he saw still haunt him, waking him from sleep or creeping as flashbacks. Now that he’s 85 years old and doesn’t have work and children to occupy his mind, those memories can take advantage of the idleness.
It stings, he said, when people don’t know what American soldiers sacrificed those three years. While Vietnam is so well known, the most some people know about the Korean War they learned from the TV show “M.A.S.H.”
Bellamy, who was born and raised in Supply, was injured twice in Korea. In both instances his return to combat came swifter than the doctors ordered. To this day, he said, he still suffers the effects of the frostbite he sustained on the frozen tundra of that East Asian battlefield. Cold weather accounted for 16 percent of the Army’s non-combat related injuries in Korea. According to the Department of Defense, over 5,000 U.S. casualties of cold injury required evacuation during the winter of 1950-1951. In all, more than 62,000 American troops lost their lives or were listed as missing in action. Another 3,746 spent months and sometimes years in enemy prisons.
Bellamy’s stories are laced with names and faces. There’s Gills, from Mississippi, who gave him a drink of water before Bellamy and eight others were sent on a mission to draw fire and expose the enemy location. Before they’d gone three miles, he said, the platoon was called back.
“A shell had fell directly right where I was laying and killed Gills,” he said.
And there’s the time when he got a concussion and while he was in a field hospital a colonel put a gun to his head.
“I can see him right now. He drew that gun on me and said, ‘we are gonna get back on that hill and save it at all costs,’ “ he recalled.
It took the military 30 years to recognize that post traumatic stress took a toll on his psyche, and about eight years ago he had his leg amputated because of poor circulation he blames in part on his injury. He participates in several veteran’s groups and sometimes visits with a Veteran’s Administration doctor for chats that help with the darkness. Korea is a part of his life he can’t shake completely, but it’s not all.
Next week, another milestone is recognized. It will be the 61st anniversary of his marriage to Malissa. Together they created a prosperous life, raised four children, and now revel in grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He’s had two careers since the war — one as a school teacher and another as a longshoreman. Malissa retired from the U.S. Postal Service.
Tuesday, as Malissa held court on the porch with her daughters, Bellamy shared his stories of war with his visitors.
Most days, Korea is a long way from North Carolina, and then sometimes — like Tuesday — it isn’t.
©2015 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)
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