Veteran received message of armistice

GIRARD – Nick Katchmer received many teletype messages while serving in the Korean War, but there was one he will always remember – the signing of the armistice.

Now 81, Katchmer served four years in the U.S. Air Force, rising to the rank of staff sergeant.

Two years after graduating from Niles McKinley High School in 1950, he started basic training at Sampson Air Force Base in Geneva, N.Y. He then trained for three months at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo., where he learned communication skills such as typing and sending message via teletype and operating switchboards.

”Right after that I was given a 30-day leave, and we were shipped to Korea,” Katchmer said. They sailed from San Francisco to Japan, and then flew cargo planes from Japan to Korea.

Katchmer said he spent a year in Korea and was there when the armistice was signed in 1953.

”I was at the communication center with 30 to 40 teletype machines with each airman at his own station.

”When you came on your shift, you went to any station that was open and start logging in messages that came into the station. As the messages came in, we put them on a perforated tape to resend them out to other stations over the whole Far East.

”I happened to be working the station when we got the message about the troops,” Katchmer said.

On July 27, 1953, he took the message at his station of the signing of the armistice agreement at Panmunjom CMM, Korea, between the militaries of the North Koreans and the United States and the South Koreans.

”I was totally shocked when that message came through,” he said. “At the end of the evening, everyone was celebrating.”

Katchmer said he waited until the end of his shift to share the news since more messages were coming in and he couldn’t let them pile up in the tape box.

”That truce is still in effect, so no one won the war,” he said, noting about 36,000 Americans lost their lives during the war. ”The war never really ended but they signed the truce and the North Koreans were on their side with the guards and the military, and the South Koreans each were one on each side of the 38th parallel.”

Katchmer said he is proud of his service even though he was not in any battle. But that isn’t to say there weren’t close calls.

During his time in Korea, the North Koreans – nicknamed ”Bed Check Charlies” – would fly their small airplanes and drop bombs at the Americans, forcing the men to evacuate the barracks.

”This was harassment. They would always come after midnight when everyone was sleeping. We had to hide in ditches and turn off all the lights. If you got near one of the bombs, you could get burned,” he said.

While in Seoul, Katchmer met four of his high school friends who were also serving in the Air Force. He saw one friend through communications and the other three came through their area and stopped at their base.

”It was nice to see my friends,” he said.

Katchmer said one man he met in basic training from Scranton, Pa., became like a brother.

”When you got separated from basic training, you went to different bases. It was unusual, but we stayed together for all four years at every air base we were sent to. … We both got seasick on the same ship,” he said.

After Korea, Katchmer was stationed for a year and a half at Ethan Allen Air Force Base in Winooski, Vt., where he was in charge of the communication station.

”I handled the general information on the military, such as parts lists from the mechanics and orders for parts for the aircraft,” Katchmer said. ”I was able to make good rank to staff sergeant in three years.”

He was discharged in May 1956.

Katchmer said there were reunions but after a while a lot passed away or he lost contact.

”We used to keep in touch with Christmas cards. The saddest part was when you started getting Christmas cards with a return address with only the wife’s name you knew the husband had died. I bet there has been 50 to 60 people who have passed away. I sometimes dreaded seeing the return addresses on the envelopes,” he said.

Katchmer had three brothers who served in the military with his brothers, Mike and John service in World War II and Steve in Korea.

”I was glad to be in the Air Force. I enjoyed it. I was very proud of my service. I met a lot of nice friends,” he said.