COVINGTON, Okla. — Lloyd “Butch” Fischer remembers a very different South Korea than the tech-forward republic of today.
Boasting one of the world’s largest economies, its citizens enjoy the fastest internet connection speeds on the planet, and have an average life expectancy of 82 years. That’s about four years better than the U.S. and 11 more than their counterparts to the north, according to data from the World Bank.
It was a lot of charred buildings and bullet holes the way Fischer remembers it. From 1955 to ’57 he toured the country by train, day in and day out delivering mail for the Army.
Travel was different then too, he said.
“In those days, if you got off the road you were stuck,” he said. Rail cars were brought in from Japan, and he spent much of his three years riding them, he on one end, mail on the other.
The 85-year-old Covington native was 21 at the time he joined. Once shipped off, he was equipped with an M1 carbine, a pair of magazines, some incendiary devices, and charged with insuring the mail got from Point A to Point B.
North and South Korea had signed an armistice agreement only two years prior to Fischer’s arrival on the peninsula. In the case that he and his deliveries were attacked, orders were to put his incendiaries to use and burn every package and parcel on board.
“Like everybody, I just did what I was assigned to do,” he said. “That was it.”
Decades later, at the insistence of his daughter, Fischer applied for an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
The Honor Flight network is a nonprofit organization that sends veterans on free trips to the nation’s C
apitol, where they are provided tours of the city and taken to visit the many war memorials and monuments in the area.
On Oct. 1, Fischer boarded an Honor Flight along with 74 other veterans, most of Vietnam, but 12 of whom also had served in Korea.
The U.S. lost 36,574 lives from 1950 to 1953. Estimates place the loss of life for both Koreas in the hundreds of thousands, and when accounting for civilians, in the millions.
Despite the devastation, the conflict in Korea is often referred to as “The Forgotten War,” never garnering the attention of the American public like WWII or Vietnam.
The Korean War Memorial in D.C. wasn’t dedicated until nearly 40 years after the armistice was signed, July 27, 1995.
Reflecting at the memorial, Korea Veteran hat on his head, Fischer might have expected a “thank you for your service” or two, but his expectations were curbed by a group of South Korean tourists.
“They saw my hat and they just came and gathered all around me. They were bowing, shaking my hand, every one of them,” Fischer said, even asking to take a photo with him.
He’s never experienced recognition like that before, he said. And that it came after so many years since setting foot in Korea leaves him with a feeling that is hard to describe.
“It’s touching. I mean, we’re looking at a couple generations since this all happened,” Fischer said.
“I’m glad I did it. I’d do it again.”