Jack Sleeth of Tyrone was in Korea 60 years ago when the signing of an armistice resulted in a cease-fire.
"It was really weird," the 81-year-old veteran recalled about July 27, 1953. "After all those months of shellfire, of hearing boom, boom, boom, it stopped. And that's what was strange. There was no sound. After all those months, no sound whatsoever."
Sleeth is vice commander of the Tyrone Area Korean War Veterans, a group of mostly Tyrone natives who found themselves on the other side of the world in the early 1950s.
John Gorman holds a photo of himself on an M8 tank.
The men, then in their late teens and early 20s, including ones fresh out of high school, were among 1.8 million U.S. troops who were part of a United Nations response to help South Korea fend off an aggressive invasion by the communist rulers to the north.
The end result of those efforts was marked Saturday in Washington, D.C., during a ceremony at the Korean War Veterans Memorial. There, President Barack Obama and other military leaders called attention to the 60th anniversary of the armistice signing.
"Korean War veterans stepped forward to serve at a defining time in our history, and they deserve our thanks," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement. "They liberated millions of people from tyranny and helped forge a strong and lasting partnership with the Republic of Korea - one that has endured for more than six decades because of our shared values and sacrifices."
The Tyrone Area Korean War Veterans, who often don hats and shirts in recognition of that service, said it was an important part of their lives.
"I don't know about you guys, but I got a lot of confidence from it," 82-year-old Gordon Cox of Warriors Mark said, prompting fellow members of the Tyrone Area Korean War Veterans group to nod.
"Remember when we went to the Inner Harbor," Sleeth said of a trip to Baltimore the group made a few years ago. "And that young couple, a young man and woman from Korea or maybe they were Korean [descent], they came up and thanked us for saving their country. That was impressive ... overwhelming, as a matter of fact."
The veterans, now in their 80s, meet monthly for breakfast at the Family Chill & Grill near Bald Eagle, a practice that started after the group organized in 1991 with about 30 members.
"We're lucky now to get 10 at our breakfast meetings," said Bob Grazier, who linked up with the group after moving back to Tyrone in 1992 from Michigan.
While some members of the group deal with typical ailments that come with aging, others continue to represent their fellow veterans in local ceremonies and parades. In the past, the Tyrone Area Korean War Veterans were the parade participants who rode and threw candy from a 10-wheel Army truck referred to as a deuce-and-a-half because it of its 2.5-ton offroad payload rating.
But that truck was sold, and some of the members talk about raising money to buy it back.
The veterans said they've made trips over the years, including one in 2009 to Dayton, Ohio, where the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is located at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
That's where Gordon Cox, 82, Warriors Mark, a member of the Tyrone Area Korean War Veterans, had a chance to again see the MiG-15 fighter aircraft that a defecting North Korean soldier flew into the Kimpo Air Force Base in South Korea.
Cox, an Air Force veteran and weapons specialist, saw that MiG-15 on Sept. 21, 1953, when Lt. No Kum-Sok, reportedly flew undetected into South Korea and landed at Kimpo. Cox said he remembers hearing one of the British soldiers say: "There's a bloody MiG coming onto our runway."
At that time, the United States had no MiGs so the arrival was startling and drew everyone's attention, Cox said. It was a time when he and other soldiers remained stationed at the base, waiting further orders based on the armistice signing.
Cox said he never saw the pilot who was taken into custody by the Air Police, but he got a close-up view of the aircraft.
"I didn't get any souvenirs though," Cox said smiling. "There were too many people around me, and they all outranked me."
The defecting pilot, who received $100,000 as a reward, remained in the United States and changed his name to Kenneth Rowe. In 2006, Rowe wrote a book "A Mi-G 15 to Freedom" describing his defection and previous life in North Korea. He retired in 2000 after 17 years as an aeronautical engineering professor at Emery-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.
The memories remain
The Tyrone Area Korean War Veterans have a mix of memories from their war days.
"It's something you really don't forget," said Jack Gorman, commander of the Tyrone Area Korean War Veterans group. "Sometimes, it's difficult to talk about."
Harry Dillon of Vail remembers his first sight of Seoul, the South Korean capital that fell into the hands of the North Koreans three days after the June 25, 1950, surprise attack that launched the war.
"When I got to Seoul in 1951, it was all bombed, all blown up," Dillon said.
Cox, who armed aircraft for bombing missions, said Easter brings back war memories.
On Easter morning in 1953, his squadron, which had a very high success rate, celebrated the accomplishment of shooting down seven Mi-Gs. Cox said he still wonders what God would think about that.
"I don't think I've gotten an answer," Cox said.
Sleeth said he put his life in God's hands when he arrived in 1951 in Korea where the exchange of gunfire seemed constant and in what he told himself when entering the Army in October 1950, a few months after graduating from Tyrone Area High School.
"I made myself a promise when I was drafted that I was going to be the best soldier I could be," Sleeth said.
He said his training gave him the ability to do the job well, especially on missions facing kill-or-be-killed situations. The North Koreans, he said, would cut communication lines, then wait to ambush soldiers like him who were arriving to make repairs.
"I was there to kill those guys," Sleeth said. "And I took care of many of them."
Dillon recalls his efforts to keep troops supplied with artillery during ongoing battles. One of the troops, he said, was wiped out with no survivors.
"We never knew whether we'd get out or not," Dillon said.
What about the
When the war ended, the Tyrone area men said they returned with little fanfare.
Grazier, a Navy veteran whose crew fueled as many as 56 warships in one day at Sasabo Port on a Japanese island southeast of South Korea, remembers arriving in Seattle.
"That's where the Gray Ladies gave us two cookies and half-pint of milk," he said.
The Gray Ladies were a volunteer group typically connected to the American Red Cross or to a military hospital.
"We came home and went to work," Grazier said.
After Dillon returned from Korea, he had to go to Cumberland to finish his military service. He had a chance to remain in the service but turned it down to return home to Tyrone where his family included his then 5-month-old son.
"When we were released, we got on a bus to get into Harrisburg," he said. "Then I took that lousy train that comes to Altoona but stops everywhere. I thought I was never going to get home, but it stopped in Tyrone," he said.
Gorman said he remembers getting off a ship at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Wash., where the soldiers were treated to a big meal. Then they were put on a bus that took them to an airplane headed for Harrisburg.
"Within 24 hours, I was home," Gorman said.
The Tyrone Area Korean War Veterans say they've noticed the public's changing attitude toward veterans, and they appreciate it when recognized or thanked for their service.
"There are a lot of people who still refer to it as The Forgotten War," Sleeth said. "But I think that been changing."
Historians say it became the Forgotten War because the Korean soldiers returned when the nation remained weary from World War II and lacked an understanding of the military's mission in Korea. It was followed by the Vietnam War that grabbed the nation's attention through television coverage, which led to protests and demonstrations.
The Tyrone Area Korean War veterans said they no regrets about their service.
"I would absolutely never discourage a grandchild of mine or a friend from signing up for any branch of the service if they want to serve," Sleeth said. "And the pay is so much better compared to what it used to be."
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.