BANGOR, Maine — Korean War veterans who made it home 58 years ago when America’s “Forgotten War” ended still remember the battles that took the lives of their brothers-in-arms and the sacrifices they made serving the country.
That is why they gather every July 27 to mark the end of the war, which claimed the lives of nearly 55,000 U.S. troops — 245 of them Mainers. The armistice that halted the conflict was signed on that date in 1953.
The anniversary will be celebrated “as long as we — the direct veterans — are alive,” Ed Davis of Orland, secretary of the Burton-Goode-Sargent Chapter 1 of the Korean War Veterans of America, said just before taps began playing, signaling the start of the annual ceremony, which begins each year at 10 a.m.
“The time of 10 a.m. reflects the time the cease-fire was signed in 1953, which was 10 p.m. in Panmunjom, Korea,” Davis said.
“A sigh of relief was heard throughout the United Nations troops that had fought through three long years of bitter fighting, up and down the Korean peninsula,” he added. “The world watched with bated breath, wondering if the truce would hold.”
About 40 people, many wearing hats or other items signifying they were veterans, gathered at the Maine Korean War Memorial located just off Mount Hope Avenue for the ceremony.
The Bangor Detachment of the Marine Corps League presented the colors. A wreath was laid at the memorial, which resembles a pagoda and was dedicated in 1995 after Korean War veterans and friends raised the money needed to build it.
The names of each Mainer who died in the conflict and those missing in action and presumed dead are engraved on the 8-ton granite monument.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Paul Tardiff, a Brewer native, was one of those at the ceremony proudly displaying the medals he earned in service to his country. He risked his life in Korea to save the life of a wounded radioman when he was a 20-year-old Army corporal. Two years later, on Sept. 19, 1952, he earned a Purple Heart for injuries suffered in combat. He displayed a miniature Purple Heart medal on his cap Wednesday.
“We were caught in a minefield,” he said simply after the ceremony ended. “We lost guys, but I made it out. I spent six months in the hospital, but I went on to serve in Vietnam.”
Marie Tardiff, his wife of 59 years, said even though the war ended decades ago, her husband still doesn’t talk about it.
The Tardiffs said they try to attend the ceremony every year.
Albert Gibson of Brewer, president of the Burton-Goode-Sargent Chapter 1, said the fact that the Korean War is known as the nation’s “Forgotten War” is not lost of those who served. Gibson, who served with the U.S. Air Force during the conflict calling in air support for the troops, said that is why local veterans host a ceremony three times a year — on Memorial Day, July 27 and Veterans Day.
“We will continue that as long as we’re alive,” he said.