South Korea honors North Dakota veterans
Visitors from South Korea recently honored 18 North Dakota veterans, including a Jamestown man for service on the Korean peninsula more than 63 years ago. Dale Schindler, 81, said he was fresh off his father's Fessenden farm when he joined the U....
Visitors from South Korea recently honored 18 North Dakota veterans, including a Jamestown man for service on the Korean peninsula more than 63 years ago.
Dale Schindler, 81, said he was fresh off his father’s Fessenden farm when he joined the U.S. Army in 1952. After basic training at Fort Riley, Kan., he was shipped to Fort Lewis, Wash., and was soon in Korea, where he served on the front lines until the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on July 27, 1953.
“I was there 16 months,” Schindler said. “When they signed the truce in July, what they did was took us off the front and brought us back to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) that was the defense line at that time.”
The DMZ, which is 2.5 miles wide and 160 miles long, separates the Republic of Korea in the south from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north. The Association of Korean National Foundation received the official medals from the Republic of Korea’s Department of Defense 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice commemoration ceremony in 2013.
The medals were presented to approximately 120,000 Korean War veterans, or the families of those killed, in the 21 allied countries that were involved. The Gratitude Medal is made from barbed wire at the DMZ, and Schindler said it is considered the medal of honor from South Korea.
“The South Korean government must have gathered up the barbed wire we had strung up there and melted it down and made these medals,” Schindler said. “I was really surprised when I was told come and get it.”
The emcee of the medal ceremony, Billy Jang Hwan Kim, a retired pastor from the Central Baptist Church in Suwon, South Korea, brought dignitaries and the Far East Broadcasting Korean Children's Choir from Seoul to present the awards to North Dakota veterans on Oct. 3 at the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum in Bismarck.
“It was a real nice ceremony, kind of a tear-jerker,” he said.
The choir was hosted by STEER Inc., a nonprofit organization in Bismarck. Ivan Friesen, director of ministry development at STEER Inc., said the choir had nine performances around North Dakota.
“They were fun to have with us, and it was amazing that they did that for the veterans,” he said, “The medals were gorgeous and I was not expecting something that nice.”
Kim said if it weren’t for the American soldiers, the Korean group would not be in North Dakota for the ceremony, Schindler said. Kim’s reflections of the time and what the American contribution means for Korea today resonated with the veterans, he said.
Looking back, Schindler said he landed in Korea by amphibious plane at night and headed north via trains and trucks until reaching Seoul, where the Han River bridges were all blown up. Eventually they had to walk and climb the hills until reaching a place called Triangle Hill.
Assigned to the 45th infantry, Schindler was sent to support a National Guard unit out of Oklahoma, and he said North Koreans played American music over loud speakers to try and make them homesick.
On his first night in the bunker, Schindler said he heard the rattle of ration cans that were strung up as an early-warning device, He threw a grenade in the direction of the noise and some angry officers informed him that crumb-searching rats made the cans rattle.
“Nobody really told us what the front looked like and what to expect,” he said. “At night, you can’t see nothing.”
A few months later Schindler said he and a South Korean soldier were on bunker guard, and changing shifts at 2:30 a.m. He had just rested his head against a sandbag when a Korean soldier let loose on his machine gun.
The North Koreans were infiltrating the lines, he said. It was difficult to see in the rocky and tree-filled terrain, so he ran out of the bunker with his Browning automatic rifle (BAR) light-machine gun.
“It all happened kind of fast,” Schindler said. “He motioned to me they were coming up the hill and I just jumped out of there and laid the BAR on the trench and just let it go. I must have emptied 11 (20-round) magazines because I had 12 and there was one left.”
Soon every bunker down the line was shooting and that must have repelled the assault, he said.
Several weeks later, Schindler and five others were pulled from the front and a brigadier general presented them with bronze stars, he said. The next morning, they were back on the front.
“It was kind of a quick deal,” he said. “It all happened so fast I didn't get a chance to let it sink in.”