Woodrow educates students about ‘The Forgotten War’
Korean War veteran Bill Woodrow, of Mansfield, fought with the 7th Regiment of the First Calvary from May 1, 1951, to January 1952. He was the first sergeant major in the Pacific Theatre. / Submitted photo
Bill Woodrow, was a member of both the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army. / Submitted photo
MANSFIELD — Bill Woodrow spent more than 19 months overseas during the Korean War.
A member of the local chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association, Woodrow is doing his part to educate people about what many call “The Forgotten War.”
Woodrow, 84, is one of many veterans who take part in Tell America presentations. They share the story of the Korean War with schools, organizations and service clubs.
“We get a very good reception,” Woodrow said. “We found that even history teachers don’t know more about the Korean War, and the students know even less.” Something I remember taught in school about Korea, NOTHING!
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the truce reached in the Korean War. Since truce means a temporary suspension of hostilities, the war has never officially ended, according to the Tell America presentation.
The Korean War began June 25, 1950, when the large North Korean army invaded South Korea. The war was fought between the United Nations military forces and the communist nations of North Korea and China.
U.S. President Harry Truman and the United Nations determined that South Korea should be defended against communist aggression.
Nearly 37,000 Americans were killed in action. Another 8,177 were missing in action and presumed dead.
“When you average it out, 15,000 a year were killed,” Woodrow said. “Compare that to Vietnam, where 58,000 were killed in 10 years.”
Like those who served in Vietnam, Korean War vets didn’t come home to parades.
“People were sick and tired of war because of World War II,” Woodrow said. “I think people in the U.S. were war-weary.
“The Korean War was always called ‘The Forgotten War.’ We Korean War veterans call it the forgotten victory.” I hate to tell you, there was no “victory”, as you put it 45k plus were killed, mia, or returned POW’s after being sent into what some called a “trap”. What do I mean?, I mean the men in my fathers regiment can tell a much different story, a must read at the bottom of my Patriots page here . These men were told when they landed they were fighting men with lesser weapons and were ordered to sink a ship loaded with their arsenal in which could have saved them from becoming prisoners. As the story I remember being told from men who were there, called “Tiger Survivors” They were advised all they need were there 308 bolt action rifles and were to head into the valley, a valley in which got them all captured instantly! I recall dad saying after he was shot that he no sooner got his weapon completely broken down and as the last piece to be thrown away he was captured. If you go to the Tiger Survivors webpage you can learn how history was recorded by a man I met at one of the Tiger Survivor reunions that aired on the History Channel in which I still have a copy of, just so when my daughter is in History class she can correct what they do teach in school. The Johnsons list was a compelling story that I had to listen to, it was amazing what this man did that surely helped those who had loved ones on his list that did not return home to know what happened to them. You can read about the Johnsons list here
Woodrow actually served in two branches of the military. A native of Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at the end of World War II, after he graduated from high school.
“In those days, every young man wanted to get into the war,” said Woodrow, who joined the Marines in 1946. “I was actually upset that I wasn’t old enough to take part in the war.”
So, after a two-year enlistment served in the United States, Woodrow left the Marines to try college.
When the Korean War began, he had a choice: Join the Marines for four years, go into the active reserves for four years or get drafted for two years.
“I chose the draft,” he said.
He didn’t have to go back through basic training because of his stint in the Marines.
But that didn’t shield him from the brutality that was to come. Combat duty is not for the feint of heart.
“It was not like it is in the movies. War is war,” Woodrow said. “People are maimed and killed. I had been curious about being in combat but never knew how bad it could be.”
Casualties were so high in Korea that by the time Woodrow’s unit had been pulled off the line, he made a remarkable climb from private to battalion sergeant major.
“I was the youngest sergeant major in the Pacific,” he said. “All the first sergeants I worked with were older than me. I learned a lot from that job.”
Woodrow recalls the misery of World War II veterans recalled to duty during Korea.
“We had a line rifle company and these men, most of them with families, were terrified of what might happen to them. I really felt for them. A lot of them had served in Europe and in the Pacific during the last war.”
Many were killed, especially when the 7th Regiment wound up surrounded and cut to pieces by the Chinese.
“The First Cavalry got through to us,” Woodrow said. “Until they did, I thought for sure we were headed for Manchuria.” Read about the Tiger Survivors and you’ll see why Bill was glad he was not sent there, the worst of the worst came from there “Red Chinese” leader called “The Tiger”.
Instead, the survivors headed for Japan to rest and regroup. Then, for battalion Sgt. Major Woodrow, his second stint as a soldier was over.
Once home, he went to work for the next 41 years as a salesman for Robertshaw Control Co., first in Chicago and then in Mansfield.
Retired reporter Ron Simon contributed to this story.