TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – The conflict between North Korea and South Korea came to a head in the summer of 1950 and within three years many of the world’s most powerful nations were embroiled in the dispute.
The war was short-lived but lives on in the minds of those who supported it through military service.
A Korean War veteran who now lives in Tallahassee recently recalled how quickly his life changed forever after America was forced into action to defend its United Nations ally in the South.
“That’s where I came to Korea, to Wonsan. This is in North Korea,” Leonard Martin, 89, said as he strolled around the War Memorial of Korea in Cascades Park. “I turned 18 on July 24. Two weeks later, they activated my unit. Seven weeks later I was on the ship going overseas.
The war, which took place more than 70 years ago, is still fresh in his mind. Martin can recall the names of foreign cities, comrades and dates in detail.
“I think about it all the time,” he told WCTV’s Katie Kaplan. “I saw a lot of things that most people don’t see, or haven’t seen, or shouldn’t see.”
Martin said he joined the Marine Corp reserves when he was just 17 and a senior in high school. By the time summer arrived, his reserve unit was activated to help create a full combat division for the U.S. Army, whose numbers dwindled after World War II. He didn’t even have time to finish training camp.
The war moved so quickly, he said, that many of his friends back home had no idea where he had gone when he disappeared for a year and a half. A good example of why it was nicknamed “the forgotten war”.
“I had friends who were like, ‘Where have you been? We haven’t seen you,'” he recalled. not what it was.
Shortly after being deployed, Martin found himself braving freezing nights as he stood guard at a machine gun outpost.
“It was cold, 20-20 degrees below zero,” he said of the experience which left him with lingering issues that are now being addressed at the local VA.
Martin was assigned to a specialist platoon that had flamethrower tanks, an experience cataloged in a book written by a fellow Marine called “Hearts of Iron”. Martin, who eventually rose through the ranks to tank commander and then sergeant, is featured throughout.
The book, along with the large local memorial, “brings back memories” for Martin who said he was surprised at how lovely it was when he first discovered it on Christmas Day he a few years ago.
In the decades since his service, he said he had had a good life. He met his soul mate, Kathleen. They have been married for over 65 years.
“I feel like I’m there sometimes,” Kathleen said with a laugh. “He remembers everything about the war, but he doesn’t remember what he did yesterday.”
Together, the couple raised four children. Their only daughter, Lynn Diemer, was influenced by her father’s wartime experience throughout her life.
“I grew up listening to his war stories,” Diemer said.
She now works for the Tallahassee National Cemetery giving back to veterans like her father.
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” she says.
In 2021, Governor Ron Desantis declared June 25 Korean War Remembrance Day in Florida.
This story is the second installment in WCTV’s “It’s Our Honor” series, which airs ahead of a live broadcast from Washington, DC on Monday, April 25 at 4 p.m.
Watch Episode 1: ‘It’s Our Honor’: Team Valor Salutes Terminal Veterans
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