“The Korean War is not a ‘forgotten war’…we will remember and honor the noble sacrifice and achievement of each and every one of the fallen soldiers.” (South Korean President Moon Jae-in, 2018)
It was over ten years ago when I first heard about the missing names. Forgotten names, really, and sadly appropriate for the men who fought in the “forgotten war.” I was just into the beginning of my exhaustive search for the names of the Roman Catholic High School alumni who gave their lives in World War I, and my father, Jack, from the Class of 1948, was very interested and wanted to help. He gave me a few suggestions, such as checking Roman’s records with the names on the massive WWI Memorial Plaque at his old parish church in North Philadelphia, St. Columba.
My father was also a Korean War veteran, and I told him that I was perplexed as to why Roman did not have a memorial plaque for our alumni who died in World War I. I then showed him the names of five Roman alumni that I had written down who were listed on Roman’s Korean War Memorial Plaque, and I asked him if he knew any of them. He said that he did, but then he also told me that there were some names missing. I was momentarily caught off-guard and puzzled. “Believe me”, he said, “I know guys who were killed in Korea – Roman guys – and they’re not on there.”
I wrote down their names on the back of an envelope. My father later called me and told me of a few more after he spoke to his fellow classmate and Korean War veteran, George Ebner. I added them to the envelope, put it in my research folder, and vowed that I would look into it “someday.” I couldn’t get to it right away as I had a ton of WWI research that was taking up a lot of my time. But, as time went by, I gradually forgot about the envelope with the names.
It seems that even among those of us who should know better, the veterans of the Korean War are still sometimes forgotten.
The soldiers of the Korean War are often referred to as the “forgotten heroes of the forgotten war” and every time I hear that I am reminded of the words of Cornelius Maxwell from Roman’s Class of 1951. His brother, Joseph, from the Class of 1949 was killed during the war, and he told me that he hates the term “forgotten war.” He said, “My brother is not forgotten, and there’s not a day that goes by that my family and I don’t think about him.”
During this 70th anniversary year that marks the end of the Korean War, all Americans should remember the brave soldiers who defended the people of South Korea against a brutal communist regime backed by China and Russia. They not only waged one of the fiercest fights in U.S. military history but, according to historian Max Hastings, likely saved the world from spiraling into a nuclear holocaust. The South Korean people remain free to this day, and their country is one of the most innovative, educated, and prosperous nations in the world.
It’s truly remarkable when you consider that many Korean War veterans have told me that when they arrived in Korea in the early 1950’s most of the towns had no electricity or running water. And now, South Korea is the modern jewel of the Asia-Pacific region.
At the National Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C., an inscription reads: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” It is a fitting testament to the Korean War veterans. Despite that fact that these young soldiers may not have ever heard of Korea, or knew exactly where it was located, they still defended the South Korean people. Millions of American soldiers fought in the Korean War, and nearly 40,000 gave their lives, including several alumni from Roman Catholic High School.
The determination of the Roman alumni who fought in Korea is perhaps best exemplified by Roman alumnus Ed Seeburger from the Class of 1940. His depleted Marine platoon was trapped by the enemy during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. In sub-zero temperatures and suffering from wounds sustained during the fighting, Lieutenant Seeburger was still able to direct his platoon’s gunfire at the enemy, enabling them to escape and saving the lives of many of his fellow soldiers. Seeburger was awarded the prestigious Navy Cross for bravery for his actions during the battle, just one grade below the Congressional Medal of Honor.
It was sometime in 2019 that I inadvertently came upon the old envelope with the names of the Roman alumni who were missing from the Korean War Memorial plaque. My father had passed away in 2014, and as I stared at the names, I thought of him and the vow that I had made seven years prior. With a renewed determination and using modern online research technology such as Newspapers.com and Ancestry.com, I eventually confirmed that my father and George Ebner were right. In addition to the names they had provided, I also found several more in my research. It turned out that there weren’t just five Roman alumni who gave their lives during that war, but a total of fifteen. The explanation for this discrepancy remains a mystery, but it’s an all too familiar scenario for the Korean War veterans.
Knowing that our father would want us to do so, my family enthusiastically agreed to fund a new RCHS Korean War Memorial plaque that honors these fifteen alumni. The plaque was also designed to accommodate several additional nameplates if further research results in more discoveries. It was officially unveiled at the 2022 RCHS Annual Veterans Day Assembly and was recently hung upon the first-floor wall next to Roman’s other war memorial plaques that honor the 152 alumni who gave their lives in World War I, World War II, Vietnam, and Iraq.
It’s been 70 years since the Korean War ended, and it is the sincere hope of Roman’s Alumni Association that if a proud school founded in 1890, with alumni that have fought in every American war from the Spanish-American War up to the present day, still honors its former students who fought in Korea, that other schools may do the same.
And perhaps, as the word spreads, a new refrain will reverberate throughout our country: “The forgotten war is forgotten no more.”
Chris Gibbons is a Philadelphia writer and Past President of the RCHS Alumni Association. His book, “Soldiers, Space, and Stories of Life”, features numerous stories about veterans and is available at Amazon.com