By DAVID GREEN
George Vereecke of Morenci clearly remembers his days of service near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Korea in 1958.
North Korean troops on one side of the 38th Parallel, Americans on the other.
“Every now and then they would come up to the 38th and face us with their artillery,” Vereecke said. “We only had a certain amount of time to get set up when we had that alert. It was scary at times. You never knew if they might come at you.”
Fortunately for him, that never happened during the 13 months that he served near the DMZ.
Since a cease-fire was signed July 19, 1953, more than 2 million members of the U.S. Armed Forces have served in Korea to maintain the peace.
Many of those veterans—Vereecke included—will be honored with a special campaign medal called the Korea Defense Service Medal.
“I was surprised that after 50 years we were getting the medal,” Vereecke said. “I thought we deserved something for it, but I was floored when I found out.”
How did he find out about the award? He happened to read a newspaper story about the medal. He doesn’t know if he would have learned of it otherwise, and he’s not sure if any other local veterans qualify for the award.
Since the cease-fire began, an average of 40,000 troops have served every year in the Republic of Korea. Approximately 1,200 U.S. casualties have resulted from the more than 40,000 hostile incidents or breaches of the cease-fire.
Korean defense remains one of the official combat zones where U.S. military personnel serve.
Eligibility for the award includes at least one of four criteria within a particular geographical region of Korea:
• engaged in actual combat;
• wounded and required medical evacuation;
• participated as a regularly assigned air crew member;
• or served in operations and exercises.
The Department of Defense anticipates up to 600,000 requests for medals.
The Department of Defense announced Feb. 3, 2004, that the Korea Defense Service Medal would be issued. Vereecke was told in October that he should expect to receive the medal soon.
He’s still waiting, but after 50 years, he might as well have the patience for a few more months.