Jack Wibby of Gray had just arrived at Moss Side Cemetery in Cumberland on a yellow school bus, along with four dozen other Korean War veterans, and was standing in the chilly morning air as people applauded loudly.
A few people in the crowd moved toward Wibby, a Navy veteran, and said, “Thank you for your service.” Wibby, 80, smiled and replied, “My pleasure; I’d do it all over again.”
The reaction Wibby got, and the interaction he had, were repeated all morning long Monday. In recognition of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War’s end, a convoy of four school buses transported local veterans of the war to coordinated Veterans Day commemorations in Cumberland, North Yarmouth and Yarmouth.
In each of the three towns, local officials talked of the sacrifices made by the Korean War veterans during what’s sometimes called “The Forgotten War.” They talked of the ultimate price paid by so many of the veterans’ fallen comrades. At each site, bells were rung, taps were played, flags were saluted, and remarks were made.
And at each location the veterans, some using canes or a friendly arm for support, were thanked by hundreds of their fellow townsfolk.
“It’s nice that the towns could do this, so these veterans know they haven’t been forgotten,” said Chris Howell, 43, of Cumberland, just before that town’s 9:45 a.m. ceremony.
The four school buses had the words “Korean War” and “60th Anniversary” written in red, white and blue letters taped over the side windows. They began a 12-mile route around 9:30 a.m. at the Amvets Hall in Yarmouth. The buses made stops at Moss Side Cemetery in Cumberland and at the Wescustogo Green in North Yarmouth, before heading back to Yarmouth for a ceremony at the town green on Main Street around noon.
Members of the committee that planned the three-town event, including local veterans’ groups, said the anniversary of the war’s end was the primary prompting for the convoy. But there was also the sense that something should be done while Korean War veterans are still able to participate.
“I think this started around the time some of us had read how World War II veterans were dying off more and more, and we thought it would be good to do something for Korean vets,” said Bob Wood, 83, of Yarmouth, a committee member and an Army troop trainer during the Korean War. “It took a lot of planning, but it paid off the way things turned out today.”
The Korean War was fought to keep South Korea free in the face of invasion from Communist North Korea, and was seen as a symbol of the decades-long Cold War, which pitted the United States and its allies against the Communist powers.
The committee that organized the event in Cumberland, North Yarmouth and Yarmouth found and registered some 59 Korean-era veterans, though not all were able to attend Monday.
Each of the three ceremonies lasted 15 minutes or so, with veterans seated in folding chairs while the crowds and officials stood. The Cumberland event was in front of the town’s monument to all local veterans, living or deceased. The North Yarmouth ceremony was in front of a gazebo decorated with red, white and blue bunting. And the Yarmouth ceremony was on the town green in front of the municipal building, where volunteers had erected about three dozen flagpoles with American flags, creating a forest of red, white and blue.
At each ceremony, the crowds ranged from about 200 to several hundred people. The buses full of veterans were escorted into each town by police and fire vehicles, sirens blaring.
Many Korean War veterans asked about their service were humble and scarce on details. One of them, Harland Storey of Cumberland, politely declined an invitation to ride in the decorated buses with other veterans because he didn’t actually go to Korea during the war. Like a lot of his fellow veterans, he was doing his duty in the United States.
Storey didn’t think he should be on the bus, possibly taking the seat of a fellow Korean-era vet who saw combat.
“I figure others did the dirty work. I just didn’t feel right riding on that bus,” said Storey, 80, a retired truck driver. “So I just came on my own.”
Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:firstname.lastname@example.org