On a day of ceremonies across the country Saturday in observance of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice agreement, veteran Bill Sandrock quietly reflected on a series of events that altered his family forever.
In April 1952, Sandrock, then 17, trained in Great Lakes, Ill., preparing to follow the path laid forth by his older brother, Calvin Jr., who was serving with the U.S. Air Force in Korea.
Bill Sandrock, a newly enlisted Air Force member, relaxed on his bunk following dinner when he was summoned for a phone call.
“You automatically thought when someone called you back then, it could be something bad,” Sandrock said from his Kinsman home. “We wrote letters, but it was different back then when it came to phone calls.”
Sandrock’s mother, Erna, told him she had received a telegram from the government stating Calvin was missing in action. Sandrock knew what this news likely meant.
“You take that pretty seriously,” Sandrock said.
Five months later, the family’s worst fears were realized. Sandrock received the news when he was ordered to visit an American Red Cross station while serving on a base in Kansas.
His brother was killed in an air crash. No further details were given.
“I was more or less stunned,” Sandrock said. “My mother was a mess. She never got over it.”
After attending his brother’s funeral back home in Newton Falls, Sandrock returned to the Air Force. He believed the time for him to ship out to Korea was coming soon.
His mother made sure that never happened.
Citing examples during World War II wherein parents lost multiple children, she petitioned the Red Cross to step in and prevent the possibility of her losing two sons in Korea.
“I had orders cut to go to Korea,” Sandrock said. “They came back and re-cut the orders.”
Instead, Sandrock was sent to North Africa, where he served a little over a year as a medical technician.
For years, Sandrock was haunted by the loss of his brother, but he was hardly alone.
Across Trumbull County, at least 40 service members were killed during the Korean War. Often referred to as the “forgotten war,” because it fell between World War II and Vietnam, Korea lasted from 1950 to 1953. A total of 36,574 U.S. troops died and another 103,284 were wounded during the fighting.
The armistice agreement, which essentially was a cease fire, was signed July 27, 1953.
According to Dr. Keith J. Lepak, associate professor at Youngstown State University, the armistice ended what was a largely unpopular war at home.
“All of the parties to the war – Koreans, Chinese, Americans, Russians – had fought to a stalemate,” Lepak stated. “The war was becoming increasingly unpopular in the U.S., and the Chinese wanted to constrain their North Korean partners before the war became a nuclear one or spread further in the region.”
Though an armistice is usually a prelude to establishing a formal peace treaty, Lepak said, this never happened in Korea.
“The war has never technically ended as sides to the conflict have from time-to-time arbitrarily criticized or withdrawn from certain articles of the armistice,” Lepak said.
As a result of the general feeling of malaise with the war and the absence of a definitive ending, veterans coming home from Korea did not receive the adulation or recognition of WWII veterans.
“Heck, you really didn’t even know the war was going on,” Sandrock said. “Until my brother was killed, I hadn’t heard much at all about Korea.”
Austintown resident Zeno Foley, who served in the Army during the war, also experienced an uninterested public after returning home.
“There were no parades or anything like that,” Foley said. “We got discharged and we just went on about our lives.”
Foley and a number of other area veterans finally banded together in the mid-1990s to make sure those who served and those who died in Korea were not forgotten, starting Chapter 137 of the Korean War Veterans.
He served as commander for about 10 years of the organization which encompasses Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties. In June, Foley decided to give up the position.
“We do a lot of things like, when a Korean War veteran that died, we’d go to his funeral, stand guard and then have the firing squad at the cemetery,” Foley said. “Then we raised money to build that memorial. That cost around $100,000, and we raised money with a daisy sale.
“We don’t want to forget them,” he said.
Sandrock has spent the last two decades trying to piece together how exactly his brother was killed.
Finally, with help from his children and the Internet, he was able to get some closure. His brother spent the majority of his time in Korea going from the war zone to various bases, bringing supplies and transporting the wounded.
While en route from Seoul to Cho-do Island off the west coast of North Korea, the C-47A Skytrain crashed into the sea near the beach at airfield named Dentist C.
“From people who have emailed me and all that, I understand the plane he was on had to come in between the island and mainland and make a sharp left into the airfield,” Sandrock said. “They were training new pilots and when he brought it in, he came in too low and the sea was rough. The wing caught a wave and tipped the plane over.”
All eight men on board the craft died in the crash.
Cortland resident and Korean War veteran John Klamut served with the Seabees, mainly clearing islands around Korea to be used for airfields. He said he understands how such a crash could have happened.
“We basically had to move a mountain out of the way to build our air strip,” Klamut said. “We once saw a plane come in during the middle of the night and land on its belly. He caught fire and spun out for about a mile.”
No one was killed in that accident, Klamut said, but the pilot was quite shaken.
“I don’t know if he had gray hair before the accident, but he did after,” Klamut said.