In the spring of 1953 Rutherford Roberson received a letter from the President of the United States.
“Greeting: You are hereby ordered for induction in the Armed Forces of the United States, and to report to an Armed Forces Induction Station.”
Roberson was 18 and a half years old.
“When I got that letter from Uncle Sam which said, ‘I want you,’ I thought it was a big thing at that time.” said Roberson in an interview with The Outlook last Wednesday.
According to the Selective Service System, Roberson would be one of 1,529,539 Americans to be drafted between June 1950 and June 1953. He was to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana for basic training. Roberson was enlisted into the 37th Army Infantry, an Ohio National Guard Regiment there at Camp Polk.
He left his job working at the cotton mill, his girlfriend and his guitar -- then rode to cajun country where he would learn to march and carry a gun.
“I wasn’t used to being commanded to do things,” said Roberson. “When you go into the army you are.”
In basic training, Roberson learned to shoot the M-1 Garand Rifle -- the rifle which is said to have won World War II. He was tested physically and mentally. He was lectured on the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and how to behave if he became a prisoner of war.
They sent him to Camp Gordon, Georgia for eight weeks to be trained as a radio operator.
From there, he bounced from fort to fort before taking a plane ride across the country. While the 37th army was not officially sent to Korea, almost every soldier in the regiment would end up there. Roberson reported to a ship heading to South Korea, a journey which would take him 7,000 miles from his home in Dadeville. He would spend multiple weeks at sea.
“It was something I wasn’t used to,” said Roberson. “I didn’t really know how long it took. We weren't keeping up with the days, we were just trying to get off.”
On July 27, 1953, at 10 a.m., in Panmunjom, South Korea, scarcely acknowledging each other, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William K. Harrison, Jr., senior delegate of the United Nations Command Delegation and North Korean Gen. Nam Il, senior delegate of the Delegation of the Korean People's Army and the Chinese People's Volunteers signed 18 official copies of the tri-language Korean Armistice Agreement. This armistice signed a de facto end to the war, just before Roberson dug his heels into Korean soil.
He was a radio operator, he relayed morse-code messages up and down the chain of command.
“Well we were in a mop-up team,” Roberson said. “We would clean up what the other folks had left.”
After the armistice, Operation Glory was conducted. The operation called for the repatriation of United Nations Command casualties and POWs. The armistice also called for the repatriation of North Korean POWs and their deceased.
“I took a vow not to speak of what we did in Korea,” said Roberson to his daughter, Sheila Hunter. “There’s just some things you don’t want to remember.”
Two years after being drafted, in April of 1955, Roberson returned to Dadeville.
“They asked me if I would reenlist and I said ‘No, I’m coming back to Alabama.’”
The Korean War never officially ended. The stalemate at the 38th Parallel continues to this day. According to Reuters, 28,000 U.S. Troops are stationed in South Korea. In all, some five million soldiers and civilians lost their lives in what many in the U.S. refer to as the forgotten war. Hundreds of books, television shows and movies are inspired by the wars that preceded and followed it. The only well-known piece of media depicting the Korean War is M.A.S.H, a comedy television show.
The magnitude of World War II and the socio-political impact of Vietnam overshadowed the United State’s involvement in Korea -- a war with a larger proportional civilian death toll than World War II. During the war, the United States Department of Defense reported 54,246 casualties and North Korea became one of the most heavily bombed countries in history. According to the Department of Defense, only 240,329 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive. The median age of Korean War veterans is 85-89. Don’t forget about them.