YOUNGSTOWN Sheriff to revisit South Korea
To ensure recognition, some refer to Korea as the 'M*A*S*H' war.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- On Sept. 11, Randall A. Wellington's jet will land in Seoul, South Korea -- exactly 50 years to the day he left.
He wonders how many travelers, aware that the 11th is the one-year anniversary of terrorist attacks, will avoid flying that day.
Wellington's packing black-and-white snapshots taken a half-century ago in the port city of Pusan, where he served with the 58th Military Police Company. Back then, a paved road in Pusan meant cobblestones and "high rise" described a four-story building.
He's heard it's all changed.
What doesn't change in 50 years? He smiles, holding up a snapshot of himself as a 19-year-old MP. The confident-looking uniformed teenager in the photo leans nonchalantly on an Army Jeep.
Now 69 and Mahoning County sheriff, Wellington reminisced about missing out on "the big one" -- WWII (1941-45). Like many others too young to fight the Germans, Japanese and Italians, he wanted to serve his country at war.
"We kind of felt we were cheated," he said, leaning back in his office chair at the Justice Center. "I was envious of my big brother; he went all through Europe during World War II."
Wellington's chance to be a soldier came after high school in 1950. He enlisted in the Army, knowing it was just a matter of time after war broke out that he'd be drafted.
North Korea invaded across the 38th parallel into South Korea on June 25, 1950. The United Nations sent troops from 21 countries.
As an MP, Wellington's duties included providing security at the bustling port at Pusan. Supply ships carrying weapons and ammunition had to be protected from sabotage.
Protection meant endless hours on duty, walking until he couldn't feel his toes that winter of '51.
When he got to ride, it was in open gondola cars on trains to the front lines.
The trains, guarded by MPs, carried weapons and ammunition to the troops. On return trips, MPs watched over POWs bound for camps on an island off the coast of South Korea.
He shivered as he remembered the frigid "winds that blew down from Manchuria." He ended up with pneumonia.
A reporter asked if, as an MP, he had to round up brawling, drunken soldiers and sailors on leave. Laughing, he said no, he wasn't the movies' stereotypical MP.
A UN forces victory at Heartbreak Ridge established the final demarcation line at the 38th parallel when the armistice was signed July 27, 1953.
As with most Korean veterans, Wellington calls it the forgotten war. It wasn't even called a war, but a peacekeeping mission, police action or the Korean conflict.
Father Francis Mulcahy in the long-running (1972-83) hit TV series "M*A*S*H" expressed the confusion everyone felt when he prayed "for a speedy end to this war, uh, police action. Oh, you know what I mean," he said, looking heavenward.
Returning Korean veterans "had no parades, no celebrations," Wellington said. "There was no clear-cut victory, like at the end of World War II."
A lot of Korean veterans, Wellington said, say they were in the "M*A*S*H" war so people know which war they're talking about.
Each year since 1975, the Korean War Veterans Association in Seoul has invited veterans and war correspondents to revisit as a way of expressing gratitude. All expenses, except airfare, are covered by KVA for Wellington's weeklong trip.
"It's such a gracious offer, I felt I should accept," the sheriff said.
Planning the trip, he said, has stimulated so many memories.
"We lived in tents for a while, then Quonset huts. We worked 10- to 12-hour shifts seven days a week," he recalled. "We slept when we could. There wasn't much free time. My mother sent a lot of goodies, which I shared -- everyone did."
Aside from Pusan, Wellington says his visit will include Seoul, Inchon and the 38th parallel.
KVA has tours organized for Panmunjom, North Korean invasion tunnels, Korean War Memorial Monument, National Cemetery, National Museum, a Korean folk village, Korean War Museum and other cultural and industrial facilities in the Seoul area.
Since he'll be in the neighborhood, Wellington has arranged a side trip to Beijing to tour the Great Wall of China.
The pneumonia Wellington attributed to the frigid winds from Manchuria resulted in life-threatening complications. He had to be evacuated to Japan for treatment and, from there, to a hospital in Honolulu.
Stateside, he spent nine months in a Colorado hospital, and then the Army classified him as 100 percent disabled. He received a medical discharge.
Once recuperated, he went to college on the GI Bill and joined the Youngstown Police Department in 1957. He retired in December 1997.
Wellington has been sheriff since September 1999.