NORTH YARMOUTH — She was not yet 30 years old, living thousands of miles from home in a temporary city of olive-colored tents, caring for the wounded warriors flown in from the battlefield.
Yet for Pauline Young, now 94, it was the moments of camaraderie, levity and tenderness that she remembers most from her years as a combat nurse in a MASH unit during the Korean War. And looking back on her time overseas, which also included service during World War II, Young said she would go back and do it again if she could.
“That was my work,” said Young, who lives in North Yarmouth. “I didn’t enjoy it because of the wounded, of course, but we were glad we were there.”
On Monday, Young will be among the handful of veterans participating in a three-town Veterans Day ceremony to honor the service of the millions of Americans and thousands of Mainers who served and fought in what has been called America’s “Forgotten War.” Veterans of the Korean War from Cumberland, Yarmouth and North Yarmouth will mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the conflict, in which millions served and more than 54,000 died.
Roughly 5.7 million U.S. service members participated, including more than 40,000 Maine people who fought in the conflict. About 11,000 Korean War veterans still live in the state, said Peter Ogden, director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services. They are mostly now in their 80s and 90s, and about 800 Korean War veterans in the state die each year, Ogden said.
A memorial convoy will carry more than 50 Korean War veterans in buses to sites in each town, before adjourning for a luncheon.
The service is the product of months of planning by a volunteer committee.
Cumberland resident Burt Kendall, who led the organizing committee, said that last year he realized the 60th anniversary of the armistice ending the Korean War was approaching this year, and began searching for a way to mark the anniversary.
Although the conflict – referred to as a “police action” and not an official war – was fought under the banner of the United Nations, the United States shouldered much of the burden, Kendall said.
The complex political relationships of the region became evident once the United States waded into the battle, he said.
“The U.S. had the wherewithal, after the horrors of WWII, to jump right back into the breach,” said Kendall, a retired city manager from New Jersey. “We were lucky we got an armistice when we did because it could have gone on forever.”
When he solidified the idea for the memorial service, Kendall – a Vietnam War veteran and commander of Legion Post 91 in Yarmouth – signed up two other local veterans groups, along with a Korean War veteran and a town official from each municipality.
They set out to identify Korean War veterans living in the area, eventually finding more than 50 who agreed to come for the three-part service.
Buses will ferry the elderly veterans in a convoy of vehicles through the towns, stopping for a brief service in each. The names of the deceased veterans from that area will be read by student volunteers, a total of 70 deceased veterans in all.
A major portion of the planning was to identify the remaining living veterans in the area from that era, including Young.
Although her recollection has become fuzzy, Young still remembers returning from service in World War II for less than a year before she got the notice to report for duty again.
“They got me again,” she said, laughing.
When she reported to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, she didn’t know where she would be sent or that the military was forming mass units for deployment. Her unit, the 8229th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, was one of three established in close proximity to each other.
She was not allowed to leave the area of tents and out-buildings established to treat the wounded who poured in from the front lines. The medical units were perhaps best known for the fictional book, movie, and television show named after the unit’s popular acronym, MASH.
Unlike the depiction of the units in popular culture, Young said, there was less horsing around and more time spent in the operating rooms.
“We came back and started watching the ‘MASH’ thing,” she said. “I was disgusted by it. We weren’t allowed in the officers’ tents, and they weren’t allowed in ours.”
Being somewhat removed from the dangers of the front lines did allow for moments of laughter.
When Young –petite then, and even more so now – first arrived at her posting in Korea, she was issued a uniform large enough for at least two of her. Looking like a poor woman’s version of Charlie Chaplin, she donned the oversized coat and pants backwards and marched into her commander’s office.
“I saluted him,” she said. “The colonel almost fell out of his chair.”
Matt Byrne can be reached at 791-6303 or at: [email protected]