By BRENNA GRITEMAN
“Most of them say that their stories are nothing special.”
But Joy Bennett knows that local Korean war veterans’ tales of combat in extreme temperatures, eating from rations in a hole in the ground, and bailing out of shot-down planes are nothing to be taken lightly.
Bennett, curator at the Hancock Historical Museum, and Ron Ammons recently completed the book “Ice and Fire: The Personal Recollections of Hancock County Area Residents During the Korean War.” In it, they tell the stories of 44 local Korean War veterans — some living and some dead — and show pictures of the men and women in uniform, aboard ships, atop mountains and inside malaria tents.
The youngest of these fighters were 17 years old in 1953, making most Korean veterans about 85 years old today. With shocking accuracy, these veterans recalled great details from their time of service — many of which surprised even their spouses and children.
“They never told me this,” many families told Ammons, who noted that many of the interviewees willingly recounted their most traumatic moments from the war. Maybe it’s because they are getting older and want to make sure future generations hear these stories. Or maybe it’s just that enough time has passed that the veterans have found some closure, he suspects.
To celebrate the book launch, the veterans featured in its pages were invited to a book signing during the museum’s Veterans Day ceremony. Bennett said only two or three of the veterans did not come to the signing, and nearly 200 community members turned out.
“They were signing book after book after book,” Bennett recalled.
“It shows these people, they are remembered,” she added, noting that the Korean War is often referred to as the Forgotten War.
In 2004, Ammons and the historical museum published a similar book profiling local World War II veterans.
“Heroes by Necessity” profiled about 50 veterans, interviewed by Ammons over 20 years as a “hobby.”
“I just started collecting the interviews,” Ammons said, adding he never quite knew what would become of them. He brought them to the museum in the early 2000s, and worked by Paulette Weiser to compile the interviews and photos into a book.
After its publication, so many more WWII veterans came forward that a second edition, titled “More Heroes by Necessity,” was published about two years later.
All three of the books are available in the museum’s gift shop. “Ice and Fire” is priced at $25.