|GORDON D. SHARP --- RAZOR'S EDGE
|April 30, 2020
|KOREA, 1950-2000...THE LONG WALK HOME
By Gordon D. Sharp, Jr, of THE COMMON SENSE HERALD
Originally Printed August 7, 2000 in the Common Sense Herald
A friend called me back in May and said the local paper
reported that they were seeking Lehigh Valley Korean-era
veterans in connection with a three-year celebration of the
50th anniversary of the beginning (and end) of the Korean
conflict. "The Forgotten War" was finally unforgotten, I said to
It was to be a three-year celebration, replete with dinners and
ceremonies. Korean vets were to receive brand new medals
commemorating their part in the conflict. Yeah, I thought to
myself, I'll believe it when I see it. This will probably be like
any other bureaucratic operation. Little did I know.
On Monday, May 22, I called the Lehigh County Veterans
Affairs office, and gave my name, address and telephone
number to the young lady who answered. I was told the VA
was sending out a letter with information "in about two
weeks." I waited as May rolled into June but no letter
arrived. As the days moved closer to June 25, the day in
1950 when America's bucolic blessedness was interrupted,
Pearl Harbor-like, by an unannounced full-scale invasion of
South Korea by the Communist forces of North Korea, I again
called the county VA office. The lady who answered this time
told me the first letter had the wrong information in it, but
another letter was going out. Meanwhile, she related, a
memorial service was scheduled at a local Korean church.
Checking my address, I learned that the VA had me living in
Kempton, a town I had passed through briefly a number of
times on my way to nearby Hawk Mountain, with the exception
of the time back in the 1970s when I took my family for a ride
on the WK&S (Wanamakers, Kempton and Southern)
Railroad. After making the necessary corrections (I hoped),
the lady requested my DD 214 form (service record), and I
told her it was on file right there in the Courthouse at the
County Recorder's office with my various Discharge papers.
Every time someone needed a DD 214. I had to figuratively
bite my lip in order to refrain from telling her that I had traveled
some 10,000 miles to establish that service record, and the
least she could do was to take the elevator down a few
floors. Then I thought, "What the heck, it's the same old
runaround we got from the VA when we returned from
Korea." I told her I'd take care of the DD 214 myself.
I flashed back to about ten or fifteen years (maybe 20 or
maybe a lifetime) to the night the Public Broadcasting station
in the Lehigh Valley ran a marathon Veterans' Day program
where the phone number was periodically flashed on the
screen with a message urging vets to call for information on
rights and benefits. I called the number the next day. The guy
who answered said, "This is a graves registration office.
That's all we do. I can't help you with anything else." It's nice
to know that years later the warm, friendly people at the VA
office are just as helpful as ever.
As for their alleged medal, I already have the United Nations
Medal and the Korean Service ribbon, and that's enough for
me, thanks. They can keep their alleged medal. For I treasure
something far more genuine than all that, and it came to me
via one of my daughters who studied in Washington, D.C.
One of her colleagues was a young South Korean man named
Teik. One day she happened to mention to Teik by way of
conversation that her father had served in the Korean War.
Teik replied, "Oh, then he was one of the great men who
gave my country its freedom."
They can't strike a medal as genuine as that.
Ed. Note: Gordon D Sharp, Jr died in 2008... His trouble
concerning the South Korean Government War Medal was
related to internal politics within the Lehigh County Veteran
Affairs Office ... Medals to Lehigh Valley Korean War
Veterans were given out in July 2000 at the Scottish Rite
Cathedral in Allentown but a mix-up caused controversy. Some
veterans were given the wrong medal, others were left with no
medals at all. An attempt was made in December 2000 to
correct this mix-up when nearly 900 veterans and their
survivors accepted Medallions of Appreciation from the
Korean-American Cultural Foundation, an exchange group
based in Soul. The ceremony was held at the 213th Regiment
Armory at 15th and Allen Streets Allentown.s
|hMAKING A DIFFERENCE
by Gordon D. Sharp, Jr. of The Common Sense
Originally Printed March 16, 1993
in the L.V. Common Sense Herald
July 26, 1993 will mark the 40th anniversary of the
end of hostilities in the undeclared three-year
Korean War, politely known as the Korean
"Conflict." For those of us who served,it marked a
profound change in the future of a generation, and
in the history of the modern world. Above all, it
marked a watershed in some Americans'
willingness to halt communist tyranny in its tracks
before it led to World War III or complete
communist domination of the Far East and
Europe. Finally, it led to the ultimate bankruptcy of
communism itself and a relaxation of its grip on its
former victims in Eastern Europe.
To many Americans, all this remains a mystery, a
parade that passed them by. Most mysterious of
all, to them (including our present White House
incumbent), is why young Americans should have
willingly forsaken home and family to fight in
foreign lands or, if having gone unwillingly,
continued to fight at all.
The following essay, written at the time by then
CBS newscaster Eric Severeid, tries to probe that
mystery. It was reprinted in a "Salute to the
Korean War Veterans" supplement in The Citizens'
Voice, Wilkes-Barre, PA, July 20, 1992 under the
headline, "Why Did They Fight?". Here it is:
" To me the greatest mystery in the Korean War
was what made American youngsters fight so
hard, so long and so well --- in this kind of war.
There have been armies that fought well only for
loot; There was none of that in Korea.
Armies have fought well only for glory and victory;
there was little of that in Korea.
Armies have fought well only when their homeland
was invaded; this was not true for Americans in
And there have been armies that fought as
crusaders out of burning moral or religious zeal;
but thousands who fought so well in Korea had
only the dimmest conception what the war was all
And they will fight again, automatically and
instantly, if the armistice should fail.
They did this without the exhortations of political
They bled and died in the mud of that bleak
incomprehensible land, in full knowledge that half
their countrymen at home were too bored with it
all to give the daily casualty lists a second glance.
They had full knowledge that, while they were
living the worst life they had ever known, millions
of their country men were living the best life they
had ever known.
They gave liberally from their own paychecks to
the emaciated Korean children while their
prosperous countrymen showed little interest.
They knew it was too much effort for many of their
countrymen to walk to the nearest blood donation
center, so they gave their own blood to their
And they felt no particular bitterness that all this
They fought right ahead at the time military
authorities were publicly arguing that they were
being handled tragically wrong.
They fought right ahead knowing that, while Allied
nations were cheering them on, Allied soldiers
were not coming to help them in any great
Why have these youths behaved so magnificently?
The answer lies deep in the heart and tissue of
American life, and none among us can unravel all
of its threads.
It has to do with the sense of belonging to a team,
with the honor of upholding it, the shame of letting
But it has also to do with their implicit,
unreasoned belief in their country, and their
natural belief in themselves as individual men
upon the earth.
Whatever is responsible, these boys' behavior in
this unrewarded war outmatches, it seems to me,
the behavior of those who fought our wars of
certainty and victory.
This is something new in the American story.
This is something to be recorded with respect and
CONCLUDING OBSERVATION: It is more
honorable to have marched one day in their
bootsteps than to lie four years in the (Clinton)
|PENN STATE CHRISTMAS
by Gordon D. Sharp, Jr. Of the Common
In December, 1954, the mud, blood and stink of
Korea were two years behind me and I was
studying journalism at Penn State University on the
G.I. Bill. As one of a handful of veteran sin Hamilton
Hall, I had been elected vice president of the dorm
council. Part of my job was to help come up with
ideas for the campus's annual Christmas
So when a couple of our shower singers on the
fourth floor suggested we go caroling, it seemed
like a good idea. There wasn't much time for
rehearsals, so for a week before the chosen date --
just a few days before everyone took off for
Christmas vacation -- there was a lot of impromptu
humming, whistling and crooning coming from
rooms up and down the halls.
On the chosen night, right after dinner in Waring
Hall, we assembled in the dorm lounge. The night
was clear with a definite nip in the air. The turnout
numbered no more than about 20men, but that
seemed to give us enough tenors, baritones and at
least one good bass to Give Mitch Miller a run for
Our first target of opportunity lay just across the
quadrangle. Hamilton Hall enclosed three sides of
the quad; that year Penn State had enrolled an
usually high number of freshman women, and they
were housed in the far wing of our otherwise
all-male hall. What better place to begin our sing?
By prior agreement we started out with a rousing
rendition of "Joy to the World" as a sort of wakeup
to let the dorms know we were there. No sooner
was the first phrase out than windows began
popping up all over the four-story building and
young female heads peeped out to see who was
disrupting their study hour. Lo and behold, by the
time we finished "Joy"they were applauding. One of
the girls recognized us because her brother was in
our dormitory and in fact, in our singing group that
night. They were both sober, quiet kids from a
Quaker family. She called down to us with a
request: If we would sing "O Holy Night," the girls
would accompany us with the soprano part. The
guys all looked at each other; this wasn't long after
Percy Faith, his orchestra and chorus had come
out with their version of"O Holy Night" with a high
soprano descant, eventually to become a
Christmas classic. Could we handle that kind of
competition? What the heck, by this time we were
psyched, and who was going to turn down some
200 freshman sopranos? If we bombed, we could
always slink back to the dorm and not show our
faces again until Mid-January.
So we began: "O Holy night, the stars are brightly
shining... The girls picked up immediately on the
soprano; when it came to the descant, they cued in
perfectly, a veritable angels' chorus. They carried
us along effortlessly as if we'd all been rehearsing
together for months. It was almost unbelievable.
We looked at each other again; was this us? Were
we really doing this? What magic had transformed
us into Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians? It was
beautiful. Applause and cheers broke out from the
girls, but we could only stand in silent awe,
transfigured by our feat. This would be a tough act
to follow, and the rest of the night wouldn't be the
same, but as we moved off and arrived at the next
dorm we really meant it when we opened again with
"Joy to the World."
Our group went through a whole repertory of
traditional carols as we moved through the campus
-- "O come All Ye Faithful," "Silent Night," "Hark the
Herald Angels Sing," "The First Noel," and many
more. These, however, were the sophomore and
junior dorms with older, more sophisticated girls
lacking the freshman's seasonal ardor. They
listened happily for the most part but would batten
down their windows before ever joining a soprano
Approaching the witching hour, we worked our way
into the vicinity of the senior girl's dorms, bare
brick high-rises with a barren, windswept lack of
landscaping. Our group seemed suddenly
diminished by the scale of the buildings, our voices
smaller, but we decided to go for broke. Would we
even be heard in this expanse of edifices?
Apparently someone heard us,because shades
were lowered on windows up and down the stark
facades; only one window opened, to give vent to a
couple catcalls and a "Shut up! And "Go away!"
Through a brightly lit ground floor window, a girl
emerged from the shower wrapped in a bright blue
towel which she promptly whipped off as she
passed close to the window. We'd been flashed,
not the common occurrence in the 1950's it would
become in the decades to follow. Jaws dropped
and notes were missed by some of our bugeyed
brothers. This was definitely Indian country.
Silenced, we headed for home. Was this what four
years at Penn State did to American womanhood?
Was the cynicism of these older senior girls the
way of the world? Had the Grinch stolen
Christmas? The shower girl's "gift" was a definite
plus, but our spirits were decidedly diminished.
Taking a different route on the way back, we
spotted a small frame house standing at a distance
from the dorms. Lights were still on and for some
reason we all spontaneously Halted and joined in
one more "Joy to the world." An upstairs window
flew open and three women,apparently graduate
students, emerged and seated themselves on the
flat porch roof. "Sing some more," one of them
exhorted. And so we did, our entire repertory; they
wouldn't let us quit, finally joining in on "O Holy
Night," redeeming our night from the experience of
the senior dorms.
We sang our hearts out for those three girls.
Many years have passed since that night. I dropped
out of Penn State the next semester to get some
practical journalism experience at a paper in
Newark, New Jersey. Eventually I did another hitch
in the service after the Air Force reserve called me
up on a technicality, but obtained an early release
and returned to college to graduate from Grove
City in 1961. After another year and half of studies
at Princeton I embarked on a journalism career,
returning to Pennsylvania in 1976. Life has taken
me many places before and since, but I have never
forgotten that night at Penn State in the holiday
season of 1954 and the lesson it Offered me.
As we journeyed across the campus that night, we
went from the bright, hopeful experience of youth
to the cold, cynical grasp of the jaded world. This
grasp often seems to capture most of the human
race at one time or another --- the loss of faith, the
loss of hope, the loss of self. But then I remember
those three girls in their humble little house on a
corner of the huge campus and their joy and
enthusiasm as we caroled to them. They remind me
that no matter what happens, there is always a
remnant, however small, who continue to hope, to
see and to and to know. They make it all worthwhile.
No, I'll never forgot that Christmas at Penn State,
and I like to think that, in addition to those three
young women, there are about 200 sopranos who
have never forgotten that night either.zxnc
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