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For Memorial Day, a Soldier Recalls the ‘Forgotten’ Korean War

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By Michael Gold

The North Korean Army was firing shells at Don Rosaforte’s artillery unit, a barrage that could last minutes or hours.

“We pull into a position, the shells are bouncing all around you,” Don told me. “Here comes artillery on top of you. The Earth was exploding. I saw people get killed left and right. A lot of guys would get caught out in the open and the guns would hit them.”

Don was 17 years old and taking high school classes the Army was teaching in Nara, Japan, where he was stationed, when the North Koreans invaded the South in 1950. He had dropped out of high school in Mount Kisco because he was bored.

“You’re a young kid, you don’t know what the hell you want to do,” he said.

There were no jobs, Don said, so he enlisted in the Army in White Plains with his father’s reluctant consent, because he was still a minor.

“My Dad had a fit because my two brothers were in the Navy. He was mad,” Rosaforte recalled.

He signed up for two years, then got sent to Japan to train in an artillery unit. He had been in Japan for 10 months when the war came.

“I was scared. When we got the news of the invasion, I asked, ‘Am I gonna make it?’”

He spent 18 months in Korea.

Don never told his wife or three daughters about what happened in the war. Don is a crossing guard for Pleasantville schools and always has a hello for everybody. Many months ago, I noticed that he had a Korean War veteran bumper sticker on his car and asked if he would tell me about his experiences over a cup of coffee at the diner.

He saw things that would disturb anybody.

“Every day, you would see women and kids on the side of the road, dead from bombs. You couldn’t count them,” he said.

The threats were constant.

“We’d be on the line all the time. I had a little Spanish guy, Merino, from Texas. We were buddies. We were peas in a pod. We stuck together to stay alive. The war was brutal. You’re moving around a lot. Sometimes you have to fight your way out. A young guy, 18 years old, gets killed. You put his dog tags between his teeth, put him in a metal box and send him to Dover (Air Force base in Delaware).

“I was one of the fortunate ones who got out alive.”

Merino did too. Don and Merino wrote letters to each other after the war.

 

After the war, Don got a letter from the president of South Korea, thanking him for fighting. Of the letter he said, “It’s not gonna bring back all the guys who got killed. The war left a very bad impression on me. It don’t make sense. Who wins in a war? Nobody. Innocent people and children get killed.”

Of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Don said, “Everybody’s getting killed, for what? A piece of ground. They could spend the money on education, the homeless, medical research, the mentally ill, Mother Earth.”

About Russia and China, he explained, “They don’t have any regard for life. Putin is sitting on his behind and all these boys are getting killed. The Chinese probably spend billions on weapons. But they have millions starving.”

After the war, the Army sent Don to the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, which tests chemical and biological weapons. He spent six weeks there, wearing a gas mask. He wondered if he ever got a whiff of poison gas.

“I had nose bleeds, sore throats, aches and pains.”

Five years ago, Don got leukemia, but with the help of Northern Westchester Hospital, he recovered. He gets a shot every four weeks to replace hemoglobin.

“I had to pay for treatment,” he said. “The bills are devastating.”

“Nobody knows what was in in the shells (at Dugway),” Don said.

He told me all the Dugway records were burned in a fire. I verified on the National Archives website that a fire in St. Louis in 1973 destroyed 80 percent of all Army personnel records from 1912 to 1960.

“I’m still fighting with the government,” said Don, who worked in warehouse distribution and delivery for decades after his discharge. “I’m a veteran. They’re not helping me.”

On Memorial Day, Don, his fellow American Legion Post 136 members and the local fire company will place flags on the soldiers’ graves to show appreciation for their sacrifices.

He said America is “the greatest country. I can go to the church I want to go to. Nobody can tell you what to do.”

At 91 years old, despite his Army experiences, he’s kept his sense of what’s important.

“Life is very precious,” Rosaforte said. “Have a good word for everybody. You do what you can.”

Pleasantville-based writer Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, The Virginian-Pilot, The Palm Beach Post and other newspapers, and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.

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