Book Tour to Honor Korean War Veterans
At 19, Barton native Norman Fosness didn’t think the Korean War would last as long as it did.
“When we went over there, they told us it was just a few bandits crossing the 38th Parallel. We thought it was gonna be over in two weeks,” Fosness said in a new book chronicling his and other soldiers’ experiences during the war. “We wasn’t expecting what we got. There was some WWII guys, including my sergeant… He said, ‘In two weeks, it’ll be over with. This is going to be nothing.’ That’s what we were expecting. We were sure wrong.”
Fosness was part of Task Force Smith, one of the first American ground units sent into Korea. The force fought in the Battle of Osan in July 1950, where American soldiers were outnumbered 10 to 1 and attempted to stop 5,000 enemy soldiers and 34 tanks with a limited amount of anti-tank weaponry.
Task Force Smith withdrew south, merging with the 24th Infantry Division in Taejon. There they reengaged North Korean forces, halting enemy advances and giving the United Nations time to bring in additional forces.
The Korean War lasted from late June 1950 to July 1953.
The book, called “Prairie Boys: Korea Jun-Oct. 1950”, is one of a multi-volume series about the history of the Korean War. It focuses on front-line Army and Marines infantryment from six upper-central U.S. States. Other soldiers to be chronicled in the series are John Belgarde, of Dunseith, and William LaFrance, originally of Velva but is buried in Sturgis, S.D.
Author Merry Helm said Korean War veterans, including the ones chronicled in her work, deserved more recognition than they received.
“I don’t call them ‘forgotten’. I call them ‘ignored,'” Helm said in an email to the Tribune.
During her research on the book, including talking to several veterans, Helm helped to get a soldier a posthumous Medal of Honor award.
Helm recalled: “I had no idea the scale of combat was so serious, and neither did my peers. When I was studying Woodrow Keeble’s case, I found a lot of men who fought beside him, and I was unprepared for how traumatized they were, even then, five decades later. It was the first time anybody showed any interest in what they went through, and several broke down sobbing as they described what it was like.
“One man told me his story over and over again until he could finally do so without breaking down. He kept saying, ‘You’ve saved my life. You’ve saved my life.’
“As I pondered the enormity of suffering these men endured, I gradually understood I was being handed a great deal of trust and responsibility. It was impossible for me to walk away after we achieved our initial objective of getting Woody Keeble the posthumous Medal of Honor in 2008. I was embarrassed that I and my peers knew so little about Korea. And the more I studied the war, the more I realized almost nobody does. We’ve done these combat veterans a great disservice, and I thought somebody has to do something. It might as well be me – and it might as well be North Dakota that leads the way, because we sent some seriously outstanding warriors into that war,” Helm said.
Helm is on a tour of North Dakota in support of the book, speaking at Dakota College at Bottineau at 2 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10 at the Heart of America Library in Rugby, 2 p.m. Veterans’ Day (Nov. 11) at Harriman House in Maddock, and at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, at Lake Region Public Library in Devils Lake.
“Touring is wonderful once I can get myself in front of an audience – I love talking with North Dakotans, they are my people,” Helm said. “Nevertheless, I’m a one-person show, and my talents do not extend into organizing and planning – I’m a writer, and a disorganized one at that. There are days I feel I just can’t pull it off by myself, and I pray a mentor or helper will appear to help, so I can stay focused on getting the next volume finished. It’s a huge task. But if I don’t get out there and talk about what I’ve learned, there’s no sense in continuing this work. That’s one of the reasons I’m so grateful to the libraries in this upcoming tour – they are going above and beyond to reach out to other groups.”
Helm said that she has been surprised by the level of interest women have shown in the war.
“This material is not for the faint of heart, and I haven’t tried to soften anything the men have told me,” Helm said. “Over and over I hear from men – and women – that they aren’t readers, but they couldn’t put it down. Or that they could only read a bit at a time, because it’s pretty serious stuff, but they can’t wait for the next volume.”
The 500-page book is available through Helm’s website, prairieboybooks.com for $25, and for $22 in bookstores.
– Tribune Staff Report
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