Vets Celebrate Korean War Cease Fire
Preston Hemphill, dressed in his crisp veteran's uniform, lifted his head to salute the American flag on Friday morning.
His navy-colored hat complemented his crisp, white shirt decorated in battle medals.
The 81-year-old Eagle Lake native was drafted into the Army to fight in the Korean War in 1950. He was 19.
The young soldier learned quickly to survive when he arrived to Inchon, Korea. Hemphill served in the 2nd Division, 18th Regiment in the U.S. Army.
"The more I fought, the braver I got," he said.
Friday meant more to him than just a day on the calendar, but a day in history.
On July 27, 1953 President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced the armistice to end the Korean War.
On Friday, members of the Korean War Veterans Associations Chapter 223 celebrated the 59th anniversary of cease fire at the monument they built to honor those who served.
While international media showed North Korean soldiers celebrating the day with fireworks and dancing, veterans in Victoria remembered in silence. One could hear the whispering sound of the occasional breeze.
The Victoria-based organization raised $28,000 six years ago to have a designated place of remembrance. It stands in the Shenandoah subdivision.
The 20-minute dedication included post colors, call for taps, and prayers for those who have served and in active duty.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950 and lasted three years, one month and two days. North and South Korean officials declared the armistice at the border village of Panmunjom. To this day, there was no peace treaty signed and the Korean Peninsula is still technically in a state of war, according to the Associated Press.
About 37,000 American soldiers killed and close to 103,000 were wounded. also, there are 4,500 soldiers missing in action and declared dead, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Some veterans believe some soldiers declared MIA could still be alive.
"They are not declared dead until we find them. They could still be some place," said Jim Friedel, the former Navy petty officer, second class.
He spent most of his military service from 1950 to 1954 stationed at the base in Sasebo, Japan.
Keynote speaker Stephen Tyler served in South Korea as a Army commander between 1990 -- 1992.
He described the inaccessible land as mountains of broken glass across the plain.
The Victoria County District Attorney said the U.S. soldiers in the 1950s were at a disadvantage in artillery but their American spirit kept them going.
"It was the grit and belief in themselves that kept them fighting in combat," he said.
Veteran Troy Howard said he is insulted that some downplay the war as a police action.
"They fought and died just like the soldiers in World War II," he said.
The 75-year-old Victoria resident was 16 when he and his now deceased twin brother Roy Howard enlisted.
It's been his goal to create more awareness about the war and the organization.
Howard said returning troops claim they didn't have a welcoming celebration, and it hurts them to not get their just due.
"They call it a forgotten war, but we lost 37,000 men, that's 1,000 a month," he said.
Armando Aguilar was eager to enter the service. He said it was in his DNA to serve. He had five brothers who also served in the military.
"I couldn't wait to be a part of the action," he said.
His excitement faded after he witnessed the wrath of war. It's taken him almost 60 years to open up to those closest to him.
"He just started talking about it. He lost his friends," said Mickie Aguilar, his wife of 56 years.
"To me, it was a job that had to be done," said the retired staff sergeant.
Hemphill, an African-American, fought in the Battles of Old Baldy, Pork Chop Hill, Heartbreak Ridge and even fought some of his fellow soldiers because of his race.
He joined the military when the units were segregated.
The grandfather of six said the news to integrate the troops resulted in a brawl. Hemphill wasn't at all surprised.
"It was just like America, racism didn't start there (in Korea)," he said.
After the tension subsided, the soldiers began bonding in the trenches and later formed lifelong friendships. It was devastating to lose a comrade.
"It's like losing a brother or son, you get to be that close," said the Prairie View A&M University graduate.
He still remembers the day the armistice was announced like it was yesterday.
Hemphill doesn't harbor any harsh feelings because of the way he was treated. He was proud to serve.
"When I look back on this day, I'm going to smile," he said.