HELENA – This July marks 64 years since the end of the Korean War. Of the Montanans who served, 138 did not come home.
The stories of some of those who did, now reside in the research center at the Montana Historical Society, which includes the words of William Medicine Tail.
“Mr. Medicine Tail chose to enroll in the navy and he is recorded as saying that he enlisted in the Navy because he always liked the water and the river,” said reference historian Zoe Ann Stoltz. “He talks about boot camp and the joy of coming home for 30 days before he’s deployed. He was able to go home for Crow Fair that summer before he’s sent to Korea.”
Stoltz pulled the files on three of the Korean War veterans who shared their stories. They are typed, but can also be heard in the men’s own words as oral histories, as well.
The Montana Historical Society has upwards of 60 oral histories from Korean War veterans.
Their stories vary from Mr. Medicine Tail’s experience of battle on water versus land, to Butte Native James Kello who shares stories of how he fared better in the cold than others.
“As Mr. Kello goes on to say, initially he didn’t have any trouble arriving in Korea because it was very mountainous and it reminded him of Butte and home,” said Stoltz.
“He, during his oral history, seems to mention in detail every major conflict. He talks about Pusan, he talks about Naktong, the Inchon, he talks about Chosin.”
And there’s Army Cook Raymond Holt who joined young and served as a cook.
“Raymond Holt enlisted at 16, just toward the end of WWII. He was able to enlist at 16 because he had parental permission.”
Stoltz continued, “He talks about the food in such an interesting way. He’s very matter of fact, in reality most of them were K-rations. All they had to do was boil them and serve them hot. But once in a great while they’d get pork chops and they’d have potatoes and you can hear this wonderful ‘yippee’ in his voice.”
They’re just three of the dozens of Korean War veterans who shared their stories and whose words live on at the historical society.
“They’re all vital to our history,” says Stoltz, “and it’s such a privilege to be at a place where those stories are considered sacred.”
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the dedication of the Korean War Memorial at Rose Park in Missoula, which took place on June 14, 1997 and lists the 138 Montanans who were killed.