Three Korean War veterans, from left, Joseph Sheehan, Clarence Dadsell and Joseph Slatton, look over plans for future events.
PINELLAS PARK – Korean War peacekeepers still are not fully recognized as war veterans because of the conflict’s former “police action” status.
Joseph Sheehan, who sits on the executive board of the Suncoast Korean War Veterans No.14, points out that more than 54,000 GIs were killed during all of World War II.
“Over 34,000 troops died in 39 months during the Korean War,” Sheehan said. “More than 900 body bags were shipped home each and every month.”
“It wasn’t until 1987 that the Korean conflict was officially declared a war,” Clarence Dadsell, former president of the veterans group, said.
That organization spearheaded three years of fund raising to build a monument to Korean War soldiers at Freedom Lake Park.
“President Truman called it a police action and it stuck,” Dadsell said. “It has taken us decades to be recognized as legitimate war veterans.”
The VFW and other organizations once disallowed membership to former Korean War troops.
Joseph Slatton served in the Kumwa Valley near the 38th Parallel during 1953-54.
“The temperatures stayed at 30 to 40 degrees below zero,” said Slatton, who retired from Thom McAn Shoes after 32 years. “I can’t ever be cold again after that experience.”
The biting Korean winters froze oil in rifles and other weapons. Troops lacked proper clothing and supplies. They huddled at night in special sleeping bags, but even that didn’t help cope with the cold.
Slatton attended Dadsell’s 101st Airborne training class after the war. They parted without becoming friends. It wasn’t until recently that they realized their former association.
“Our first efforts to install a war memorial in Pinellas County was rejected by the board of commissioners,” Dadsell said. “It was the Pinellas Park City Council that helped our dream become a reality.”
Dadsell credits Mayor Bill Mischler with getting the Freedom Park plot for the monument that stands between a massive American flag and a Vietnam-era F-16 jet fighter.
“Our goal was to raise $30,000,” said the former New York City bricklayer. “We actually collected about $84,000.”
About $25,000 of that money is now used for an annual scholarship. A $1,000 grant is presented each year to the high school student who writes the best essay about the Korean War. The contest is open to Pinellas Park High students and others who attend county schools with ROTC programs.
Sheehan, a retired electronics expert, is still bitter about how he and his peers were treated after the war.
“There were no block parties or cheering crowds,” he said. “We were the little brothers of World War II veterans who came home and went on with our lives with little or no recognition.”
Ground-breaking ceremonies for the war memorial was held on June 25, 2002, the anniversary of the Korean War’s start. It was completed on July 27, 2003, 50 years after it ended.
The 140-member Korean War Veterans group meets the third Thursday of each month at the Pinellas Park VFW #4364, 5773 62nd St. They volunteer their time at Bay Pines Veterans Hospital, local Boy Scouts and even provide an Honor Guard at military funerals.
“We buried 115 veterans last year,” Dadsell said. “A lot of the old solders are passing on.”