PHOTO: July 27 marked the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice. Local Korean War veteran Roman Welter recalled his service in the war and how lucky he was on the front lines. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
On July 27, 1953, the Korean War came to an end. All those involved in the conflict (the United States, the People’s Republic of China, North Korea and South Korea) agreed to sign an agreement to end the war.
This year marks 60 years since the armistice was signed, ending three years of conflict. The war began on June 25, 1950, and cost the lives of millions.
One local veteran who served in the Korean War was Roman Welter. He recalled his time in the service, fighting overseas and the memories that still stick in his mind 60 years later.
Welter grew up in Hopkinton, Iowa. He was drafted in November of 1950 at the age of 23.
At the time, he was working in the office of the Hopkinton creamery in the feed department. He took a typing class in high school, which led to his office role.
“My typing skills saved my butt,” Welter said, which later played a role in Korea.
“I was one of the first to be drafted from Delaware County,” he said.
Welter said President Truman never referred to the Korean War was a “war,” but a “police action.”
“He (Truman) never declared war. It ticked us off that we were fighting a police action, as we were trudging up hills and getting shot at!”
He was later sent to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for basic training and heavy weapons training.
“That was a God-send,” Welter said of the training. “A lot of Iowa boys ended up in heavy weapons combat.”
Welter recalled training alongside several other men from Iowa who were all drafted at the same time.
“If your last name started with a ‘V’ or ‘W,’ you ended up together.”
Once Welter landed in South Korea, he was assigned to the 24th Division, among some of the first replacement troops for those soldiers who had already been there for a lengthy period of time. They went through a five-day refresher camp, to “loosen up the company,” as Welter described it. After just two and a half days, Welter said he was needed on the front lines.
“I was glad to go,” he said. The training was much worse than what they went through before they were deployed.
“The bayonet drills were not my favorite to do,” Welter said.
As a replacement soldier, he joined H Company and volunteered for machine gunner.
“You start out with 42 pounds of ammunition you have to carry up- and down- hill. It was hard work.”
With a background in typing, Welter soon saw a different side of the war. He recalled when his company clerk was rotated out to go home, it was Welter who would take on the duties.
“I was in my foxhole and the company officer asked if I knew how to use a typewriter,” said Welter. “I ended up as the company clerk on the front lines.”
While he was never up against any heavy artillery, Welter said he always had to carry his weapon on him at all times.
“I never fired my weapon. It could have been a lot worse.”
As company clerk, Welter would compile the morning reports, accounting for all of the soldiers in the company, those who were missing, any injuries, etc.
“I had to keep track of things,” Welter said.
At times, he would also rotate to company supply sergeant. In this role, he took care of issuing all of the clothing for the men.
Recalling what he witnessed during the war on the front lines, Welter said he knew of three of his Iowa buddies who were wounded.
“I actually never had it that bad,” said Welter of avoiding injuries.
In early May of 1951, Welter said he was sent to Japan, and from there he was later sent home in 1952.
Welter said in the late 1990s, he had the opportunity to go back to South Korea (He fought along the border of North and South Korea.) for a tour. Many other Korean War veterans were also invited, so he took advantage of the trip.
“I have a much better opinion now of the war than I did then,” he said.
He said many of the cities were in ruins when he left, but are now amazing cities.
On the last day of that reunion tour, Welter said he was in a downtown shop when a Korean lady at the door bowed before him, thanking him of his service. He said that is a memory that will stick with him always.
“What I got out of the experience were the friendships I made,” Welter said. Just last year, Welter organized a reunion here in Monticello of Korean War veterans. He said the first reunion was held in 1992.
“I’ve been going ever since,” he said.
Sadly, the last reunion of these courageous men took place earlier this year in Wisconsin, with just five in attendance.
“We decided to disband,” Welter said of the poor numbers. “It’s hard for us to travel anymore.”