DALLAS — Sgt. Robert Alper sat quietly as he waited to receive his medal.
Alper was one of 41 Korean War veterans honored Tuesday at Dallas High School. They were each presented with the Korean Ambassador for Peace Medal, given to U.S. veterans and those who served in United Nations peacekeeping missions. To be eligible for the medal, a veteran must have served between June 1950 and July 1953 or have participated in UN peacekeeping operations until the end of 1955.
Just before the ceremony ended, Alper rose to speak.
“This is for all the young people in the audience,” the Kingston resident said. “Before Veterans Day, stop by the Luzerne County Courthouse and visit the war memorials there. Go and see the names of all those young men and women who gave their lives for their country.”
Alper talked about how U.S. Gen. Omar Bradley said his secret weapon in battle was his troops, whom he called “the best damn kids in the world.” Alper noted most of the casualties of war were young men and women, not much older than the students at Dallas High School.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, partnered with state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, to honor the veterans. Toomey worked with the Korean Consul General to provide the medals to U.S. veterans for their honorable service in the Korean War.
Baker said she was glad to participate in the program that featured students and educators taking an interest in an important, but under-appreciated, chapter of American history.
“This program combines elements of patriotism and faith, principles that motivate our veterans and many of our citizens,” Baker said.
Baker thanked the program participants: Chaplain John Emil and the honor guard from Dallas American Legion Post 672, members of the Dallas High School Military Interest Club and their advisor, Mark Adams; student Riley Oremus, as well as state Reps. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, and Aaron Kaufer, R-Kingston.
“We are reminded that not all lessons of value and impact are instilled in the classroom,” Baker said. “We can learn a lot from the service and sacrifice of others. The Korean War has too long been shortchanged in recognition. It is well that we take steps to rectify that while we still have veterans of that conflict among us. The medals given today are but a small expression of the gratitude we feel toward those who defended freedom for us.”
Baker provided a brief history lesson of the Korean War, calling it “the first hot conflict of the Cold War.” She said there were strategic triumphs, major miscalculations and, in the end, stalemate and truce.
“Veterans tell of brutal cold, miring mud and hordes of Chinese,” Baker said. “We should recognize Inchon, the Chosin Reservoir, the Pusan perimeter, the three battles of Seoul, Pork Chop Hill and the Punchbowl, the places where uncommon courage and gritty determination were demonstrated.”
Baker and Col. Bob DeSouza of Toomey’s staff noted the vastly different circumstances between South Korea and North Korea today — economic, cultural, moral — and said it is clear the U.S. involvement had a purpose and a lasting result.
“South Koreans have not forgotten what was done to save them from being rolled over by the tide of communism,” Baker said.
Adams, a learning support teacher at Dallas and a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard, has served in Afghanistan. He organized the school’s Military Interest Club three years ago and there are 25 members and growing, he said.
Brandon James, a senior at Dallas, has enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve and has already been through boot camp. James will serve for at least six years and plans to attend college next year.
“I wanted to make something of my life,” he said. “I felt the Army was the best place for that.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.